Cameron's Gay Marriage Victory Showed Him As A Real Leader - Spectator Blogs

7 February 2013

12:12 AM

7 February 2013

12:12 AM

And lo, the battle for British Gay Marriage was in fact a rout. True, half the parliamentary Conservative party voted against the measure. True too, this is now being considered further evidence that David Cameron’s leadership skills – or, rather, since they are not the same thing – his party management skills are less than they might be.

But, for once, I think focusing on Tory divisions misses the rather bigger, simpler story. Nearly half the Conservative parliamentary party endorsed gay marriage in the House of Commons. And they did it on a free vote. That is quite a thing.

Now of course I understand why the press prefers to portray this as a struggle between Modernisers and Traditionalists but even if you wish to see it in this  – not altogether useful – fashion there’s no doubt who won. The Modernisers. I fancy that in ten years time we will wonder what the fuss was about.

Will it help the Conservatives win some of the metropolitan seats they could do with winning at the next election? Who the hell knows? Again, it is easy to view this kind of matter through an electoral prism. But sometimes doing so misses the bigger, simpler story. Which is this: the Prime Minister showed some real leadership on this issue.  That is, I think he thinks that legislating for gay marriage was the right thing to do and that this, more than positioning or modernising or vote-grabbing, was the motivation for this legislation. It’s sad to think that this counts as something refreshing at Westminster.

Perhaps there was no need for this bill. Perhaps it was not a matter of great urgency.  Perhaps the bill, like most bills, has its flaws. Frankly, these are objections that could be made to most bills that pass through the Palace of Westminster. Sometimes the answer to the question Why now? is simply Why not now?

It’s true that homosexual emancipation – as such, it may, I think, be termed – has moved at a rapid pace and too quickly for some. There has been a remarkable transformation in attitudes in this country in a relatively short period of time. It is understandable that some people will take longer than others to reconcile themselves to that change.


But, guess what, people can – and will – reconcile themselves to that change. The Telegraph’s editorial opposing this legislation accepts that:

The British public have long proved themselves open-minded and adaptable; in time, the existence of gay marriage will become a settled fact. But even if the country takes the change in its stride, Mr Cameron may find – to his cost – that his party has not.

This is an interesting formulation, not least since it suggests the British public is likely to react to all this in a more measured fashion than the Conservative party. Where does that leave the Tory party then? I’d like to think that just as we can have some confidence in the good-natured decency of the British public we could have some equal confidence in the good-natured generosity of the Conservative party. But perhaps not.

People are often better than we give them credit for being. I think it reasonable to have misgivings about this kind of measure but I also suspect experience will prove most of those misgivings irrelevant. Time will work its magic.

As for the party management question, well, I thought it wise for the Prime Minister to avoid the House of Commons debate. Everyone knows where he stood on the issue (he’s been talking about it for years after all so no-one can say they weren’t warned about this). But leaving the floor to others helped ensure that this was less about David Cameron and more about the merits of the matter itself. There was something almost refreshingly modest about this too.

Iain Martin has some good advice:

Cameron is now getting all sorts of strange advice from Tory modernisers. Having split the Conservatives in parliament with his campaign on gay marriage – and I am told he regrets the damage done in party management terms – there are renewed calls circulating for him to declare war on his party. This is kamikaze politics, the opposite of what he should be doing.

I agree. This battle is won. There is no need to bayonet the Tory wounded. Better, by far, to regroup and move on. We are hearing quite a lot about loyalty in the Tory press at present. Oddly, however, it is the Prime Minister who is accused of betraying conservatism. I should think the loyalty question is best asked of Cameron’s internal opponents.

Whatever their motives, the malcontents do the Tory party’s electoral prospects no good at all. I dare say Downing Street could  – and should – do more to make backbenchers feel loved but backbenchers might also ask if their actions are really helping the party. All this recent speculation about the leadership has, viewed from far beyond Westminster’s walls, seemed perfectly ludicrous. If loyalty was once supposed to be the Tory party’s secret weapon it sure ain’t any more.

I happen to think gay marriage a conservative issue and think it better by far that legislation permitting it be passed by a Tory-led government. Britain has changed and one way we will know this is when we realise, a few years hence, how little this bill has changed much that matters at all. It will be seen as a tidying-up piece of legislation, not a revolution. A Tory measure, in other words.



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Show comments
  • Grrr8

    Call me an old cynic here, but I don’t see much for gay people having changed beyond their new access to the word ‘marriage’. True leadership could have been allowing gay subjects of the kingdom the same rights to a church wedding in the state church as their fellow hetero subjects. It could also have been getting government out of the marriage business altogether and reducing its status to enforcing contract law. For the state, a marriage would be no more than a contract between two (or more) consenting adults.

  • DrCrackles

    EU stooge Cameron.

    • timinsingapore

      Omigawd, you have to be a real obsessive to attribute this to the EU.

  • Humphrey

    There are many things that Cameron believes are “the right thing to do” but which he has not pursued. An example is tax breaks for married couples, which was a Conservative manifesto promise. So why choose gay marriage which was not in the manifesto and is an issue on which the electorate has never had a chance to express a view?

    • Alex Honeker

      When will opponents of equal marriage stop saying the lie that “it was not in the manifesto”? The Conservative Party issued a “Contract for Equalities” that clearly talked about the possibility of introducing equal marriage legislation. It was part of the party’s 2010 electoral campaign. Perhaps you need to read the party’s campaign documents before voting…

  • Hugh

    “That is, I think he thinks that legislating for gay marriage was the
    right thing to do and that this, more than positioning or modernising or
    vote-grabbing, was the motivation for this legislation”

    How do you know that exactly? Did George Osborne tell you? And assuming you’re right (a fairly big assumption) why, if Cameron was right to press ahead with this whether it benefits the party or not because he thinks it right, should backbenchers reflect “whether their actions are really helping the party”? I’m pretty sure the opposition to the move is genuine.

    • timinsingapore

      This assumption is less far-fetched than the howls of Europhobe obsessives ascribing every move Cameron makes to toadying to Brussels ..

      • Hugh

        But I’m not claiming this is anything to do with Brussels. I think it more likely it’s part of the endless rebranding and “modernising” Cameron is obsessed with.

  • MikeF

    If it is enlightened to support ‘gay’ marriage on the grounds of ‘equality’, why could it not be equally enlightened to oppose it but support civil partnerships on the grounds of ‘diversity’.

  • Sue

    For those who still doubt that the EU is in charge and that Cameron is really a spineless jellyfish.

    “EU aims at recognizing same-sex “marriage” in all 27 Member States”

  • Capilano

    Well put Alex. This was long term thinking by Cameron. Good for the party, good for the country.

    On a personal note, how will those who voted against it explain it to their grandchildren? Their children even. What shame they should feel. It will only look more and more reprehensible over time.

  • Sue

    As has already been pointed out on various respected blogs (EUReferendum/Richard North & Cranmer), leadership had nothing to do with it. Cameron was doing as he was told by his Masters in Brussels.

    • Capilano

      Remind me how many EU states allow gay marriage?

      • Sue

        They will all eventually have to comply whether they like it or not.

        • Mr Eugenides

          Sue, this is meaningless. I loathe the EU as much as anyone else but it is factually incorrect to say that gay marriage has been “mandated” by the European Union. A report voted on in the European Parliament does not bind the Commission, far less the British government, and – come to that – the article you have cited does not even make that claim. Richard North’s article on this is the very definition of disreputable.

  • Bernie Laverick
  • David Lindsay

    The number of real opponents of same-sex “marriage” on the Conservative benches is no greater than the number of Labour and Lib Dem opponents combined, each of those parties having far fewer MPs overall. There may not even be as many as that. This
    privatisation of marriage is the ultimate in Thatcherism, in neoliberalism, in anarcho-capitalism, in everything for which most Conservative backbenchers, and not a few
    frontbenchers, now stand. As does UKIP.

    Every Labour or Lib Dem MP who voted against this really is opposed to it. Every Labour or Lib Dem MP who abstained, including by eing absent in the full knowledge that this vote was going to be held, really does have grave misgivings about it. As have many more who made thoroughly unhappy speeches and who will certainly oppose the extremely unlikely Third Reading of this Bill if it remains in its present, and only possible, form.

    But many, probably most, of the Conservative votes against were for show, and designed to prevent Constituency Associations from moving to replace the MPs in question with Tories. I am not fooled. Nor ought they to be. And nor, dear reader, ought you to be. The same goes for UKIP.

    • Grrr8

      Umm, I think we have the exact opposite of the ‘privatisation of marriage’. The state is now telling another group of people that the state will consider them to be ‘married’.