Editor’s note: The same-sex marriage bill promoted by Tory Prime Minister David Cameron passed in the House of Commons on Tuesday despite sizable defections from his own party. The bill still needs to be approved by the House of Lords before it becomes law.
It is now becoming clear that marriage, more than Europe or the economy, is the issue which more than any other will lose the next election for the Tories. They cannot now win. According to a ComRes poll, taken this month, quoted by the rather well-written letter handed in at 10 Downing Street yesterday by 25 Tory local party chairmen, 20 per cent of those who voted Conservative in 2010 agree with the statement “I would have considered voting Conservative at the next election but will definitely not if the Coalition Government legalizes same-sex marriage.” That includes me: I voted Tory in 2010—I didn’t just want rid of Brown, in my naivety, I was attracted by the idea of The Big Society, as were other Catholics, including Archbishop Nichols (maybe that should have made me think). That turned out to be an empty slogan.
Now Cameron is about to enact same-sex “marriage,” which did not figure, either in his election manifesto or in the coalition agreement. I will never vote Tory again, so long as Mr Cameron remains Tory leader. I know that means Miliband in Downing Street: but how could that be any worse? The fact is that our polity has been wrecked, and our society gravely (though perhaps not, given time—at least half a century—irreversibly) damaged by those who have held power in this country over the last 25 years. There is very little real democracy left. Blair wrecked the constitution. Cameron is about to damage, very seriously, the institution of marriage, the building block from which our society is built. It all looks pretty hopeless, and if your assumptions are entirely secular, hope isn’t, indeed, a commodity you can rationally harbor very much of.
Back to the Tories. The fact is that if 20 per cent of those who would have considered voting Tory at the next election will not do so if the gay “marriage” bill is enacted, then he cannot win. Nor can he ultimately survive as leader if over half his MPs vote against him tomorrow, as the Sunday Telegraph (which always has good information among the Tories) predicts. There is very little loyalty to the Tory leader left among his MPs, who are well aware of opinion among their own grassroots. According to yesterday’s Telegraph, around 180 Conservative MPs, including six whips and up to four members of the Cabinet, are ready to oppose the Prime Minister’s plan to legalize gay marriage: that leaves only around 120 Tories to vote for the measure. At the same time, the 25 chairmen or former chairmen of Conservative party associations I have already quoted have warned that the policy will cause “significant damage” to the Tories’ 2015 general election campaign. One chairman, who has quit over the issue, said “this is a policy dreamt up in Notting Hill”; a still serving chairman said it had angered the grassroots more than Europe. Cameron is tearing the Tories apart, and for what? It seems like political madness.
According to the Telegraph, among those who will vote against will be Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, and David Jones, the Welsh Secretary, Philip Hammond, the Defense Secretary, who will either vote against or abstain; Iain Duncan Smith is expected to abstain. At least half of the Tories’ 12-man whips’ office, on whom Cameron relies to enforce party discipline, will also vote against as will senior Tories like Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Liam Fox and Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee. A good number of junior ministers will also vote against. The fact that this will be on a free vote can provide no comfort for Mr Cameron. Downing Street has made it plain that it regards this as an issue of confidence; and bullying messages have been put about implying that those who vote against the bill can forget any advancement in their political careers.
The letter from the Tory chairmen is too long (Cameron probably won’t even look at it, he’s so arrogant), but it’s worth reading, all the same. I quote simply two paragraphs:
According to another ComRes poll in February 2012, 70 per cent of British adults agreed that “marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.”
To dismiss these strongly held views as those of an extremist minority, or a minority at all, would be wrong, as would the assumption that this is an issue which will swiftly be forgotten and abandoned by those who have made their feelings clear. We feel it would also be wrong to assume that the passage of time will remove opposition to same sex marriage and the advocacy of traditional conservatism. The largest faith groups, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam, are strongly opposed to same sex marriage in common with most practiced faiths in Britain. Equally, we are sure you will agree that the Conservative Party needs to do much more to attract ethnic minority voters to the Conservative cause. It is predicted that by 2030, 25 per cent of voters will be of ethnic minority background, most of whom oppose same sex marriage.
That final point really does show how out of touch Cameron has become. He has just had the bright idea, it seems (on top of his renegotiation with the EU, etc etc) of trying to make the Tory party more attractive to black and Asian voters. And he forces through this vote on gay marriage? Is he totally out of touch with reality? But why do I even ask the question?
This column first appeared February 4, 2013 in the Catholic Herald of London and is reprinted with permission.