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As Cameron allows a free vote on gay marriage, 45% of Tory MPs say it's the top issue constituents write to them about

By Matthew Barrett
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GayweddingThis morning's Sunday Telegraph reports the findings of a poll of MPs of all parties, which suggests that many Members of Parliament are receiving a significant amount of correspondance from constituents on the topic of gay marriage.

The poll, conducted by ComRes for the Coalition for Marriage campaign, shows that 34% of MPs cited gay marriage as one of the main concerns raised with them by voters, ahead of welfare reform (23%), NHS reforms (19%), pensions (13%), fuel prices (13%), unemployment and jobs (8%) and the Budget (8%). Of those constituents writing to MPs, the overwhelmingly majority are against - on average, three in four voters are either opposed to the measure (19%) or strongly opposed (55%), according to MPs’ assessments. Only 16% of constituents are seen to support the plans.

Opposition to gay marriage is reported by all three main parties. However, Conservative MPs get the most correspondence on the issue - 45% of Tory MPs say gay marriage is the biggest issue with their constituents, while 30% of Lib Dems and 23% of Labour MPs say the same.

The poll is interesting, because it gives us some idea of how Tory MPs are being lobbied ahead of a vote on the issue. Earlier this week, Number 10 gave the signal that a vote on gay marriage would be a free vote - as matters of conscience are, by convention - having previously implied the vote could be whipped. Although there is no indication of David Cameron drawing back on his plans to legislate for gay marriage, this poll does indicate that many MPs will feel the pressure from constituents to disagree with the Government. 

An increasing number of Conservative big beasts are coming out in opposition to spending Government time legislating for things like Lords reform or gay marriage - Owen Paterson and Philip Hammond, for example - but it will probably require a large number of Tory MPs to vote against the Government for gay marriage not to pass through the House, because Labour will largely vote with the Government, and the relatively small number of socially conservative Labour MPs will not be enough to threaten a majority for Number 10's policy. The battle for the Lords, however, could be a lot tougher for the Government to pass.

James Forsyth's Mail on Sunday column, meanwhile, reports on the financial and Party unity implications of pursuing gay marriage:

"One Conservative MP in favour of it told me last week that her constituency association was losing more members over gay marriage than any other issue. I also understand that three of the party’s largest donors are considering scaling back  their support because of it... Cameron has offered reassurance that he understands this is a matter of conscience and said that Tory MPs and Ministers would be  free to vote as they chose. This compromise allows Cameron to campaign for gay marriage while not making it a matter of party policy. It will please the Chief Whip, the man in charge of Tory Parliamentary discipline, who is himself said to have grave reservations."

Read the whole article here.


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