In the next few hours as the vote on the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill approaches, the ‘undecideds’ are declaring how they will vote. Yesterday I reported that Tory PPS David Burrowes was likely to defy the three-line whip on the programme motion which makes the arrangements for scrutinising the Bill between second reading and report stage, but was not planning to resign in advance of either abstaining or even voting against, which some of his backbench colleagues plan to do. Normally a member of the government, from PPS to cabinet minister, would be sacked for defying a whip.
But I understand that the whips have been telling PPSs who are unhappy with the programme motion that if they abstain, either formally or by ‘being somewhere else at the time of that vote’, there won’t be the usual consequences. Because Labour supports the programme motion, a handful of Tory MPs failing to turn up won’t make any difference, while those opposing gay marriage acknowledge that they have already lost the argument on the arrangements for scrutinising the bill. There is even a chance that it won’t be pressed to a division at all. This manoeuvre by the whips is a thoughtful way of calming tensions on the motion.
While the Prime Minister’s plans to speak out to reiterate his support for the legislation came to nothing yesterday, George Osborne continues to lobby MPs on his behalf, with observers reporting that the Chancellor has enjoyed some success with his acolytes. I also understand that while Iain Duncan Smith’s support for the Bill has been publicly confirmed in the Mail today, he was telling parliamentary colleagues before Christmas that he would vote in favour after securing assurances of protection for religious institutions. But as the newspaper reports this morning, his public support along with that of fellow social conservative Chris Grayling is a big boost to the Prime Minister.