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Tuesday, December 11, 2012 

Could it be?

Loth as anyone in a position in authority is to admit it, there are times when they simply get stumped.  Look at Arsene Wenger: the man who managed his team to such a successful extent that they went an entire league season without defeat, and now he can't even motivate his latest squad to beat Bradford City, a whole 64 places below them.

I, on the other hand, have no authority whatsoever and am happy to admit that I can't wrap my head around the decision by David Cameron to push ahead with legislation for gay marriage.  Seeing as we can safely dismiss the notion that our current crop of politicians do anything for the reason that it's the right to do, it's difficult to see how the Tories will get even the slightest credit for wanting equality.  If it's a belated attempt to continue with the "detoxification" of the party, then it's surely came far too late to make a difference.  Even if it does have an impact, are many really going to be swung towards supporting the party due to this one issue, ignoring or rationalising everything else?

It seems highly doubtful.  Besides, this is an issue where regardless of the policy pushed by the party leadership, it comes down to whether or not your actual MP/prospective MP supports it.  As the party's split on the issue, to the point where up to 40% of the parliamentary party opposes it, any benefit seems likely to be even slighter.  Indeed, if anything it seems likely to ostracise both shades of opinion: the lobby against has been vociferous in targeting Tory MPs, motivating some to make comments which have come very close to being homophobicWith UKIP being as opportunistic as ever (Nigel Farage still can't work out whether his party should be libertarian or populist, settling on a ghastly mixture of the two), those opposed have somewhere to go, while those in favour, already unlikely to support right-wing Tories, are going to be further put off the party.

Cameron's predicament is at least understandable.  The release of the 2011 census data was wonderfully juxtaposed with Maria Miller's setting out of the proposed legislation, a happy coincidence if ever there was one.  With the number specifically identifying themselves as Christian dropping sharply, and the number professing no religion increasing to a quarter, it's never been more apparent that Britain is changing incredibly rapidly.  20 years ago the age of consent was yet to be equalised, while it took until 2003 for Section 28 to be repealed in England and Wales, a measure David Cameron voted against, only to later apologise for the Tories introducing it in the first place.  The young especially are bemused at the fact that this is even an issue, and the sight of Peter Bone or David Davies being so enraged at the prospect of gay couples being able to marry as well as enter civil partnerships is hardly likely to enamour them towards the party.  Labour can take the credit for practically every piece of liberalising social legislation, even if much of it was pushed through by a politician who later left for the SDP; why shouldn't Cameron finally take some for his modern, liberal Conservative party?

This leads you to wonder whether it's an attempt by Cameron to ape Tony Blair's insistence on repeatedly riling his party.  The difference surely is that Blair for the most part did it when he was well ahead in the polls or entering his valedictory period: Cameron by contrast is well behind, and needs to silence the muttering against him by those who continue to blame his entire strategy as leader for their failure to win the election.  Much as their analysis is absurd, they're right to worry that this is just the kind of policy likely to antagonise their core support.  We already have civil partnerships, which the vast majority welcomed so the thinking goes; why offend or outrage the religious sensibilities of quite so many people for so little likely gain?

The bill itself follows this bewildering pattern.  Despite suggestions to the contrary, there will be no mechanism by which Church of England priests will be able to go against the orthodoxy and marry gay couples, while similarly civil partnerships will remain available only to same sex couples.  At the same time, the bill will allow certain faith groups which are happy to marry gay couples to do so, thereby angering the coalition that wanted religions to be exempted entirely.  Those that wanted individual dioceses within the CoE to decide for themselves what to do have also been left disappointed.  Partially this is meant to remove any possibility of either the domestic courts or the ECHR ruling that the bill is discriminatory, but it also has the effect of further confusing the issue, leaving very few other than Stonewall happy.

If it's true that this is one of those policies Lord Ashcroft has decreed must go ahead for the Tories to appeal to the yoof, then his thinking seems severely flawed.  The bill will clearly pass the Commons, but only due to Labour support; any credit Cameron might be able to claim will duly be tempered by the crowing from Ed Miliband that it was only thanks to his party that it went through at all, emphasising that the Tory backbenches remain the home of err, social conservatives.  We therefore have to return to my hasty dismissal of the notion this could be an example of politicians doing the right thing at the right time, acting with the best of intentions and attempting to do so while taking all opinions into account.  It couldn't be, could it?

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