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During a witch hunt, the first casualty is common sense

Dr David Mackereth, 56, claims his contract was terminated after he refused to refer to “a six-foot-tall bearded man” as ‘madam’, a tribunal has heard
Dr David Mackereth, 56, claims his contract was terminated after he refused to refer to “a six-foot-tall bearded man” as ‘madam’, a tribunal has heard Credit: Andrew Fox

You know how racist people tend to say things like “I’m not racist, but...”, and how shadow cabinet members mumble “I’m not anti-Semitic, but...” before going on to make outrageous statements that suggest quite the opposite?

Well, I’m neither of those things. Nor am I transphobic. I do not care what consensual shenanigans people get up to in private, how they dress in public or where they worship.

Seriously, knock yourself out. As long as your rights aren’t impinging on mine, there’s no problem. And if I need to budge up my ancient rights a little to make space for your modern ones, I’ll do that, too. It’s the British way. Live and let live. Mustn’t grumble. Keep calm and carry on.

Except it’s increasingly difficult to carry on in our 21st-century Salem, where there’s a witch hunt in progress – and common sense is the casualty.

Take the case of the doctor who was sacked this week because he told his line manager that he would not address a (purely theoretical) “six-foot-tall bearded man” as “Madam” or “Mrs”.

Dr David Mackereth was barred from working as a disability benefits assessor because he believes gender is defined by biology. Apparently, this marked him out as transphobic. So help me. So help us all.

Ladies Pond at Hampstead Heath: is it prejudicial to insist that women and girls should accept biological men into their private spaces? Credit: Tolga Akmen/LNP /London News Pictures Ltd 

If said theoretical man then strode into the Ladies loo or swimming pool changing room claiming to identify as a woman, presumably we are expected to accept that as perfectly reasonable?

And what if his mate then came in and his mate’s mate? I might identify as a Marvel action superhero or Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but that doesn’t make it so.

I saw a man in the street not so long ago wearing a “Baby On Board” sign. Do you want to know my instinctive reaction? I thanked the Lord we weren’t on public transport.

If he’d asked for my seat, would it have been transphobic not to give it to him? Would anyone have stood up for me if I’d refused – or would I have been set upon?

I fear that our politically correct planet is losing nuance faster than rainforest. There is no longer any wiggle room; if you are not actively for something, you must be against it. And if you are against it then you will be made an example of.

It’s why Twitter scares the hell out of most normal people; the slights and contempt, backbiting and vicious obscenities reflect a society that is leeching goodwill, good humour and good manners.

I strongly suspect this militancy is behind the British Social Attitudes survey that has revealed our increasingly liberal attitudes to sex and relationships have stalled; acceptance levels for sex outside marriage and same-sex unions have dropped.

Does that make us prudes? Or have we become more judgmental because single issue identity politics is fracturing our sense of nation and undermining our honourable history of tolerance?

And while four out of five citizens had no prejudice against gender transition, it was worrying that fewer than 50 per cent felt prejudice against transgender people was “always wrong”.

Then again, what constitutes prejudice? There’s a term desperately in need of the aforementioned nuance; just because someone is offended does not mean an offence has taken place.

And just because an individual feels excluded does not make a situation or an institution prima facie discriminatory. That may be the case, but any conclusion must be reached by examination, discussion and in an even-handed spirit of enquiry.

Is it prejudice to insist that women and girls should accept biological men into their private spaces? Or is prejudice to refuse?

We now know that some of us could lose our jobs if we refuse to call six-foot men with beards “Madam”. Ought we to call everyone “Madam” just in case, so it’s more of an opt-out than an opt-in scenario? Will I be branded a terf (that is, a “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”, which is, for the avoidance of doubt, not a good thing) for even bringing any of this up?

Britain is changing – perhaps not fast enough for those who feel marginalised, but squaring up to fight all-comers is not the way to win hearts and minds.

Public acceptance of same-sex relationships in Britain has declined for the first time in almost 40 years, according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey Credit:  Westend61

I’m reminded of that hilarious kids’ comedy show Sorry I’ve Got No Head (shame on you, BBC, for not recommissioning it), which featured a series of fabulous sketches in which the Witchfinder General, in full 17th-century garb, is transplanted into the present day.

There he is, in the Post Office queuing up to apply for a passport. The jobsworth assistant tells him he needs to get new pictures taken without his Witchfinder’s hat and then join the back of the queue again.

He whinges a bit, tries to argue, and then triumphantly points at her and shouts “Witch! She’s a witch!” – whereupon and a gang of chanting peasants come running in to carry her off, presumably to be drowned or burned. It’s the perfect allegory for present day pettiness where pressure groups prefer to bully and intimidate than compromise.

Look no further than those angry parents who are back outside Parkfield School in Birmingham, demonstrating and shouting about how teaching an LGBT-inclusivity course is corrupting their children’s young minds and teaching them that it is OK to be gay.

The fact that it is OK to be gay and gay people’s rights are enshrined in equality legislation seems to have escaped them. They have decided that protesting and yelling and threatening takes precedence over the children too stressed to walk past them and too upset to focus on their education.

Such blatant homophobia is deeply disturbing, as is the fact their bigotry is going largely unchallenged. It appears that here in Britain, the authorities fear accusations of Islamophobia far more than charges of homophobia.

I have no idea why or how one phobia trumps another, but that’s for another day. It’s clear that intolerance begets intolerance. I’m not an intolerant person, but I do believe we need to stop tolerating the intolerable.

Read Judith Woods every Thursday, 7pm, on telegraph.co.uk