Monday, 4 February 2013

The Tory War Over Gay Marriage

If it wasn't churning up waters polluted by the most bigoted filth the Tory benches can muster, you could almost sit back, have a nice cup of tea and watch the Conservative Party tear itself apart over gay - or as I prefer to call it - equal marriage. It was almost entertaining to read The Telegraph's forensic job on the havoc it's wreaking upon the party's body politic. Constituency chairs stepping down and resigning, activists going on strike, around 180 Tory MPs set to abstain or vote against ... on the surface it looks like the worst crisis the Tories have faced since Thatcher was ousted.

All this begs the question. If we are to take the protestations of the withering grass roots at face value and equal marriage is driving the activist base away, then why is Dave so determined to pursue such a self-destructive course? Presumably he would like to win in 2015?

I think there are four things going on.

Dave really believes in marriage, whether it's between a woman and a man, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. As rare an instance it may be these days, here we have a party leader acting out of genuine conviction. It's therefore difficult to disagree with Michael Gove(!) who, batting for Dave in Sunday's Mail says "It's wrong to say to gay men and women that their love is less legitimate. It's wrong to say that because of how you love and who you love, you are not entitled to the same rights as others. It's wrong because inequality is wrong." Well said.

But Dave is nothing if not the consummate politician. Equal marriage is much more than the disinterested pursuit of sincerely-held convictions - there are a couple of important political stakes in play. The first, and most obvious, is the attempt to move away from the 'nasty party' image. True, attacks on our poorest and most vulnerable people so millionaires can have a hefty tax cut isn't something I would do if I was overly concerned with cultivating a compassionate conservative image. But Dave is gambling that people really don't care about attacks on social security and "skivers" and that it will all be forgotten in time for 2015 by when, he hopes, the economy will have picked up. So by enthusiastically embracing equal marriage he hopes the Tories can start making inroads into LGBT communities. His aim, no less, is to make the Tories the party that champions same-sex relationships - not the party of Section 28. At the price of the stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off types who infest the constituency associations, Dave must hope the swing voters lured by the liberal conservatism of his "hug a husky" phase will give him another punt.

The second, and probably the most overlooked aspect of the row is how it can, and is, strengthening his leadership. On the face of it the opposition talked up by the Telegraph looks serious. But, electorally speaking, equal marriage - like Europe - is a second order issue. As has been pointed out, it's not likely to have much of an impact on the Conservatives' performance - and they may, in fact, gain more than is lost. Nevertheless, what we have here is a party leader going against what appear to be the immediate interests of his party. He's caved to backbenchers on Europe and Lords reform, but not this time. With Labour and LibDem backing the legislation (on the whole) Dave will get his way in the teeth of a feral but declining internal opposition. And once they lose the Commons vote tomorrow, the less able they can mount an opposition in the future. Just as victory emboldens an insurgency, defeat can work to demobilise one. With his internal enemies weakened or decamping, the less likely Dave's Irritant Tendency can derail his plans for the remainder of this parliament.

Lastly, and to strike a conspiratorial tone; Europe, equal marriage, they're all rather good for keeping the NHS and the economy out of the headlines.


Anonymous said...

I suspect Cameron's advisers have simply looked at the trend line for religious participation and drawn the obvious inference - in a generation the Church of England will have virtually disappeared as an institution in which the public participate. Of course, the CofE will still dominate schools, parliament etc, but that's a different matter and and a long standing component of the democratic deficit.
The Tories are desperate to promote themselves as right wing centrists, which most of the parliamentary party are. The 'Taliban tendency' led by Widdicombe and others are an embarassment, and of no real use to the corporate sector.

Phil said...

I agree with you anon. If you look across the sea at the Conservatives in Canada, they appear to be a thoroughly modern centre right party. Unlike the Tories, they don't go out the way to bash unions or demonise sections of the population either. Well, at least compared to our lot.

For them they had to go through the political trauma of being reduced to just two seats about 20 years ago. It was adapt or die, and they adapted. Can our Tories do the same? I'm not sure. The traditionalists will die off and UKIP is nothing but an sharp reflex of a dying movement - but the Tories are too hamstrung by their organic relationship to big business, and the most backward sections of it at that.

Steve Gibbs said...

United Nations Agenda 21
Same Sex Marriage

Phil said...

Sounds like bonkers nonsense to me.