Conservative Diary


4 Feb 2013 06:05:32

The same-sex marriage bill - and why I'm cutting the money I give to the Party

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By Paul Goodman

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Before marriage was the handfast - a public declaration of commitment by a couple.  (There is a charming portrayal of one in As You Like It.)   First absorbed by the Church and later abandoned by the state, its memory is a reminder that marriage is at heart not a government-licensed arrangement, but a social institution.  In that context, there is an attractive conservative case for same-sex marriage, since institutions, by their very nature, evolve.  Just as Shakespeare's plays evolved from the theatre that preceded them, the argument runs, so marriage can evolve from that of a man to a woman.  The cross-dressing and role-playing in Shakespeare's play can acquire a new dimension.  Orlando can marry Touchstone, and Rosalind be wed to Celia.

If this was all there was to same-sex marriage, we should all be "intensely relaxed" about it, as the saying goes.  I found some of the contentions about marriage put forward by the Catholic Church, when I first heard them put from the pulpit, unpersuasive (and have not changed my mind since).  But the current debate is not about custom, but law: the same-sex marriage bill is to have its second reading tomorrow. Its contents have already exploded one of the main arguments made by its supporters - namely, that the bill is all about equality.  After all, it proposes that adultery will not be a ground for divorce among same-sex couples.  How can there will be equal marriage without equal divorce?

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3 Feb 2013 08:56:40

Christian and traditionalist Tories have chosen the wrong fight. They've chosen to fight gay marriage, a battle they can't win. They've neglected religious liberty, a battle they can't afford to lose.

By Tim Montgomerie
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There's lots of nonsense emanating from certain pollsters, notably ComRes, about gay marriage having a disastrous impact on Tory fortunes. YouGov's Joe Twyman has Tweeted an important link which shows that the effect might well be negative in the short-term but that - AT WORST - it will reduce the Tory vote from about its current 34% to 33%. Here, in full, are Joe's numbers:


Joe's numbers don't account for the generational issue. Younger voters really cannot understand the opposition to same-sex rights. The Conservative Party rebels on gay marriage are putting themselves on the wrong side of history.

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15 Jan 2013 12:22:02

The connection between the victorious cross-wearing BA nurse and...Steve Hilton

By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron has tweeted this morning for the first time since Sunday - to express his delight at Nadia Eweida's victory at the ECHR.

I hope he has expressed it personally to James Eadie QC, who opposed Ms Eweida's case in court...on behalf of the Government of which Cameron is Prime Minister.

Eadie argued that Christians should "leave their beliefs at home or get another job" - to borrow the Daily Telegraph's vivid summary of his lawyerly arguments.

To be fair, it is less absurd that it might seem to have the Prime Minister take one view and the Government's lawyers take the opposite one, and put it in court.

For it is sometimes (indeed, often) the case that Ministers' view of a case is one thing and their lawyers' view is another.

But there is a connection between the way in which the Government lawyers approached Ms Eweida's case and Steve Hilton's criticisms of the civil service, as reported last weekend.

She was asked by British Airways not to display her cross at work as long ago as 2006, and Ministers thus inherited the case from Labour.

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12 Jan 2013 10:25:07

No, Cameron isn't Henry VIII. None the less, imagine: your church has a hall in which wedding receptions are held...

By Paul Goodman
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I think that priests in the Church of which I'm a member are going a bit far in comparing David Cameron to Henry VIII.  That sort of language is better confined to the wilder spirits on ConservativeHome threads.  But their Daily Telegraph letter today reminded me of a question put to an MP friend of mine at a surgery - and one that isn't Catholic-specific.

A delegation from a local Church told my friend that it has a church hall which is available for wedding receptions.  If same-sex marriage passes into law, it has three options.  First, to open it for receptions to same-sex couples, despite the beliefs of their Church.  Second, not to do so, and risk a lawsuit.  Third, to stop making it available altogether.  What should they do?

My friend was stumped, as well he might be.  David Cameron is about to propose a measure which he was under no public pressure to introduce, which hasn't been properly thought through, and which will gain him no demonstrable benefit.  Which helps to explain why I oppose the same-sex marriage bill, which will cause the Conservative Party difficulties that are only just beginning...

31 Dec 2012 08:44:32

Eight pieces of New Year advice for David Cameron

By Tim Montgomerie
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In my Times column (£) I offer eight pieces of New Year advice to David Cameron:

  1. Offer an In/Out referendum in your January speech on the EU. Nothing else will quite restore goodwill amongst traditional supporters in the country and press. In today's Sun, Trevor Kavanagh agrees.
  2. Communicate regret rather than relish about having to squeeze benefits. The squeeze is necessary for deficit reduction and to incentivise the leap from benefits to work but no Conservative should give any impression that below inflation increases will be easy for already hard-pressed families.
  3. Throw everything at the IT challenge that endangers the Universal Credit. Whitehall isn't good at IT and the Coalition's reputation for competence is at stake if this flagship reform fails.
  4. Don't retreat on gay marriage but do reassure Christian and other traditionalists that you're are on their side. Recognise marriage in the tax system. Promote faith schools. Fight against religious persecution overseas. I presented other ideas on Christmas Eve.
  5. Give more one-to-one interviews and fewer speeches because you are at your most persuasive in these fora.
  6. Respond to the Lib Dem disloyalty. Don't personally sink to Clegg's level but authorise Grant Shapps to counter punch at the constant Lib Dem attacks on the Conservative Party.
  7. Lovebomb your party for the next two-and-a-half years. Appoint someone like David Burrowes MP as a second PPS to help you reconnect with the parliamentary party.
...And number eight...

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24 Dec 2012 08:46:04

Cameron's Christmas message described "as the most Christian of its kind from an incumbent prime minister"

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Telegraph describes David Cameron's Christmas message "as the most Christian of its kind from an incumbent prime minister". The Daily Mail concludes that Mr Cameron "went further than ever last night when he quoted from the Bible, referring to Jesus as ‘the light of all mankind’ and the ‘Prince of Peace’".

Here is the key section of the message that has aroused reporters' interest and is being interpreted as an attempt to woo Christians offended by the Coalition's plans to introduce gay marriage:

"Christmas also gives us the opportunity to remember the Christmas story – the story about the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that he brings to the countless millions who follow him. The Gospel of John tells us that in this man was life, and that his life was the light of all mankind, and that he came with grace, truth and love. Indeed, God’s word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace."

It is certainly more emphatic than the way he described his faith in 2008:

"I believe, you know. I am a sort of typical member of the Church of England. As Boris Johnson once said, his religious faith is a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes. That sums up a lot of people in the Church of England. We are racked with doubts, but sort of fundamentally believe, but don't sort of wear it on our sleeves or make too much of it. I think that is sort of where I am."

Read Mr Cameron's full Christmas message here.

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15 Dec 2012 13:29:13

Cameron risks the revenge of "the elderly of the earth"

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-12-15 at 13.02.46Not so long ago, people were both more free and more orderly.  For example, there were no race relations laws: you could say what you liked about ethnic minorities (as they usually weren't called then).  The English always drank: "He gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled".  But - again by way of example - fewer illegal drugs were available, so the policing and health and social costs of substance abuse were far lower.  And since there was no internet, it followed that there was no online porn.  Although the churches were emptying, Christianity was woven deep into the nation's culture, like the threads on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Today, people are less free but more disorderly, or at least more diverse.  You must watch what you say about ethnic minorities or gay people.  But illegal drugs, once consumed only by the elites, are available to the masses. And you can say pretty much what you like about Christians, or at least people with socially conservative views.  (Though Nick Clegg thought it prudent to claim that he doesn't believe that those who oppose same-sex marriage are "bigots).  Where once the presence of the Church of England floated like some universal fog, today there lumbers health and safety...or the European Union.

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12 Dec 2012 08:00:12

Beneath Cameron's drive for same-sex marriage lies disdain for his own MPs

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 07.02.50When I left the Commons in 2010, the local Association activists were more or less the same people as when I entered it in 2001 - though, of course, older.  Others had died during that decade or so, like other, less active members.  Others still failed to renew their membership, or moved away from the High Wycombe area.  But they were essentially the same people at the end as at the start: decent, hard-working, public-spirited, not always well-off, seldom movers and shakers (unlike some of the people I worked with at Westminster, though this wasn't necessarily to their disadvantage), distinguishable from their neighbours largely by being politically active - and, by the end of my time as the local MP, a bit more set in their ways, as older people tend to be.

As time like an ever-rolling stream bore those ten years away, I noticed a change in their attitude to the party leadership.  They didn't exactly become more disenchanted - though this was so in some cases - but they definitely became more detached, as all the while around them election turnout stayed very low, public disenchantment with the political system grew, and party membership fell further.  After David Cameron became leader in 2005, trying to report what he was doing became rather like trying to explain to an elderly couple what their grandson was up to.  Imponderable words and phrases began to flow from my lips even more frequently than usual: "huskies...modernisation...inclusivity...hoodies".

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10 Dec 2012 00:01:00

Sir John Major becomes latest senior Tory to endorse gay marriage

By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday saw the launch of the Tory-led Freedom to Marry campaign - a joint effort to advance the cause of gay equality; broaden the institution of marriage and protect religious liberty. F2M's core principles are listed here.

Major John Pink Tie 2Today former Prime Minister Sir John Major becomes the latest senior Tory to endorse equal marriage. He issued this statement through Freedom to Marry:

"The Prime Minister's instinct to support equal marriage is a courageous and genuine attempt to offer security and comfort to people who - at present - may be together, yet feel apart.

I fully understand that there are many who will find this difficult to accept, as will the Churches.  But the Prime Minister has made it clear that the Churches will be free to make their own decisions upon whether to conduct such marriages - and that is entirely the right approach.

We live in the 21st Century and must move on: every couple should have the opportunity and the right to formalise their relationship."

> Bruce Anderson on ConHome today: "If anyone told David Cameron that a centuries-old coral reef was about to be destroyed, the PM would rush into action. Yet institutions are the social equivalent of coral reefs, and the PM shows little interest in preserving them. Who would have dreamed that a Tory-led government would propose the effective abolition of the House of Lords, plus a change in the order of succession to the Throne, plus a radical redefinition of the nature of marriage?" Read the whole piece.

7 Dec 2012 12:39:15

If Cameron lets churches conduct same-sex marriages, what happens to those that refuse?

By Paul Goodman
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I was told months ago that civil servants were finding it difficult to frame same-sex marriage proposals that would bar churches - and mosques, temples, synagogues and so on - from being able to conduct them.

So I suspect that today's story in the Evening Standard - which reports that "David Cameron backs gay weddings in church" - has more to do with the legal advice Ministers have been given than with a sudden change of mind or heart in Downing Street.

Which raises a question: namely, that if some churches, say, agree to conduct same-sex marriages, but others refuse, what happens to the latter when a legal case if brought against them?  The Standard has been briefed on the point.

It reports that "government lawyers told [Maria] Miller they have devised a foolproof legal 'lock' to protect churches that oppose the reform from being dragged in".  "Foolproof", eh?  I detect anxiety in Whitehall - and Number 10.

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