Tony Blair’s bizarre statement on trans rights sums up the madness of our times

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

Let’s try doing a little thought experiment. Imagine that, 20 years ago, you bumped your head and slipped into a coma – and have only now, in June 2024, regained consciousness. Naturally, you’re eager to check the news and find out what’s going on in the world. So, after a member of your family has lent you his or her iPad – and explained to you what it is and how to use it – you rush to visit The Telegraph website. And, at the top of the homepage, the very first headline you see reads as follows.

Tony Blair: A woman has a vagina and a man has a penis.”

Upon reading these 13 extraordinary words, what, do you suppose, would be your immediate reaction? Perhaps it would be: “Goodness. That bump to my head must have been even more serious than I thought.” Or: “I haven’t come out of the coma after all. I’m still unconscious. I’m just having a very, very strange dream.”

Having pinched yourself, however, you conclude that you are in fact awake, and that the headline must therefore be real. Tony Blair – who, at the time you entered your coma, was this country’s prime minister – genuinely has issued some form of public statement, announcing to the world that a woman has a vagina and a man has a penis. What, you ask yourself, is going on? Why on earth would he feel compelled to say such a thing, and what makes him think that it’s new and surprising information? What will tomorrow’s headline be? “Tony Blair: A cat goes miaow and a dog goes woof”?

Until you clicked on the link and read the story, you would be utterly stumped. In fact, even after you’d read it, you’d still be fairly puzzled. Because, 20 years ago, it would never even have occurred to a journalist to ask a politician whether or not women have penises and men have vaginas. And if, for some reason, a journalist had asked a politician this question, it would have been greeted with bewildered silence. “I’m awfully sorry, Mr Humphrys, but would you mind saying that again? I didn’t quite catch it. For a moment, it almost sounded as if you were asking me whether women have penises and men have vaginas.”

These days, however, it happens all the time. Senior political figures are endlessly asked, with a straight face, whether women have penises and men have vaginas. It’s not considered at all surreal, or even mildly unusual. It’s become as run-of-the-mill as asking about taxes or immigration or NHS waiting lists. And when – as Sir Tony Blair did yesterday – a senior political figure confirms that he or she grasps the basics of human biology, it makes headline news, and is thought to be wildly controversial.

The whole business is a lesson in just how quickly, and dramatically, society can change. In next to no time these days, an idea can go from extreme to mainstream. Or, if not mainstream, then at least prevalent among the kind of people who get to decide what the rest of us are permitted to say and think.

Still, this obviously isn’t the only unexpected way our society has changed since Sir Tony’s time. Imagine if, the day after 7/7, someone had said to you: “Less than 20 years from now, the streets of London will be filled every Saturday with people marching in support of an Islamist terror group. And if a lone counter-protester dares to hold up a placard that reads ‘Hamas are terrorists’, he’ll be the one who gets arrested.”

How would you have responded to such a prediction? Personally, I’d have told the person who made it to stop being so ridiculous.

The only way to save our democracy

Everyone keeps complaining that this election campaign is deathly dull. And true enough, it is. But this is not – or not only – because Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are so stupendously drab.

Overwhelmingly, it’s the fault of the pollsters.

For almost two years now, polls of voting intention have given Labour leads of 20 percentage points or more. This has made the campaign feel like a waste of time, because the outcome seems a foregone conclusion. With the publication of each new poll, we can see that no matter what the Tories pledge, it makes not the slightest difference to voters.

If polls of this kind didn’t exist, the outcome would be far less predictable. Which would be vastly healthier for democracy. Polls do more than anything else to make us view politics as a horse race, and to fixate over who’s currently “winning” – even when the next election is years away. In a world without polls of voting intention, we would be forced to spend more time discussing actual policy.

When Sir Keir becomes PM – as the polls tell us he most certainly will – he should pass a law to ban them. I suspect he’ll find this idea attractive. Because, if he doesn’t ban them, we’ll soon be able to see his government’s support going through the floor.

Way of the World is a twice-weekly satirical look at the headlines aiming to mock the absurdities of the modern world. It is published at 7am every Tuesday and Saturday