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From Councillor Miles Windsor and Ben Harris-Quinney: The same-sex marriage bill is a symptom of a wider malaise at the top of the Party

Cllr Miles Windsor, Chairman of Conservative Grassroots & Cllr Ben Harris-Quinney, Director of Conservative Grassroots.  Follow Miles, Ben and  Conservative Grassroots on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-05-19 at 16.44.07The SSM Bill is upon us again and, like reluctant, battle scarred warriors, members on both sides of the debate are trudging wearily back into the fray. Needless to say, the SSM bill is a political minefield. Whilst we can acknowledge the admirable motivation to see minority groups fully included in a united Britain, Conservative Grassroots is of the opinion that the Bill is politically, intellectually and philosophically bankrupt.

It would be self-indulgent to run through the multifarious arguments against this highly un-conservative piece of social engineering, and the long list of concerns have been expressed inside the Commons Chamber and outside via the media.  As Conservative Grassroots, our great concern is that the Conservative Party membership is engaged and involved in the direction of the organisation to which we give our time, money and support. The Party is not only reliant on the many hard-working individuals who stuff envelopes, knock on doors and, indeed, cast votes - those people are the Party. However, in the presentation and execution of this Bill, our leadership has demonstrated no interest in the views of its members or the core Conservative vote. We will not be alone in our experience of angry activists rescinding their membership or the dismay of voters expressed during conversations on the doorstep.

People who have supported the party for decades have pledged never to vote Tory again as a result of this policy and its management. Whilst you can find polling to suit whichever position you favour, there have been a number that one might think would even worry those operating from Number 10. For examples see here and here.

These polls have clearly been ignored, but the figures that cannot be ignored are those that show UKIP trailing the Conservative Party by just ten points, following cataclysmic results in Eastleigh and the local elections. The response to this from David Cameron and Grant Shapps was to say that the message had been heard and understood - and changes would be made.

Screen shot 2013-05-19 at 16.47.32Sadly, we cannot see any change of direction on this bellwether policy from the leadership, and we believe that the most constructive approach at this stage is to support amendments and compromises to the Bill.

Some have already been put forward by David Burrowes MP on ConservativeHome this week, and the few other members in opposition to the Bill admitted to the Committee stage. His amendments seek to ensure that the legislation enshrines religious freedom and call for a referendum on the issue so that the public can have their say. The safeguards are not unreasonable given the deep concerns expressed by faith groups and the growing legal debate, and with no electoral mandate it’s a policy on which the public should have the opportunity to vote. Burrowe’s hopes for any such amendment or compromise at the Committee stage are clearly non-existent however as he commented from a front row seat: “Not one word of the Bill was amended. BBC's Mark d'Arcy was not far off when he commentated on the Committee's deliberations as "a bit of a ritual.” 

This leaves it to Parliament, to backbenchers and the Lords to make necessary amendments. We feel that amendments need to go further than those put forward by David, to explore properly what role the state has to play in marriage going forward, to define in name and in religious protection a clear differentiation between religious marriage and any contract or union formed by the state. If this union provided by the state is called civil partnership, it must be extended to all, if it isn’t, then civil partnership should be scrapped.

What is true, and what we have learned, is that with an issue as delicate and fundamental as this, divisions run in all directions. Whilst the lack of compromise from the Government on this issue should be questioned, it would be equally fair to say that others that oppose the bill have refused to look at any option other than the defeat or total withdrawal of the Bill - something we consider unrealistic at this stage. It was this that forced changes to the management of Conservative Grassroots as an organisation, which had upon foundation become unacceptably beholden to a dogged perspective, the undue influence of one Christian campaign organisation and this single issue – as was questioned on this blog.

The SSM bill is undoubtedly very important and we will continue to oppose it, but it is symptom and not cause of a wider malaise at the top of the Conservative Party which needs to be addressed - a leadership unwilling to engage and negotiate with its grassroots and seemingly unaware of the wider public mood. We will be supporting and encouraging the Party leadership in reconnecting with Tory voters and developing an authentic Conservative vision for Britain and we encourage ConHome readers to take part. We want to be a constructive force in bringing about a Conservative victory in 2015 - to achieve this we need our grassroots united and on board.


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