Conservative Diary

Family and relationships

5 Feb 2013 19:22:05

Same-sex marriage: Ayes - 400. Noes - 175.

By Paul Goodman
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9.30 pm Update: According to the Guardian, 127 Tory MPs supported the bill, 136 opposed it, and 40 MPs either voted both ways (actively abstaining) or did not vote at all.  According to Paul Waugh, 40% of payroll vote (47/119) failed to support the Prime Minister, and 70% of backbenchers (129/184) failed to back him.

7.45pm Update: We have our first real rebel estimate - the number of those Conservative MPs who voted against the programme motion.  There were 55 votes against it - it's not clear at this stage how many were Tories.  60 blue votes would be a fifth of the Parliamentary Party.

7.30pm Update: Preliminary estimate from Paul Waugh of PoliticsHome - 132 Tory MPs voted with the Prime Minister and 139 against.

I wrote earlier that an important test for David Cameron would be whether he can get the support of 152 Conservative MPs.

My first reaction to the figures above is that, assuming some 30 MPs of other parties voted No, the Tory No vote looks to be on the high side.

Nicholas Watt of the Guardian is tweeting Labour sources as saying that more Conservative MPs have voted against the Prime Minister than with him. Let's see.

5 Feb 2013 11:11:51

Will more than half the Conservative Parliamentary Party follow Cameron into the Aye lobby this evening?

By Paul Goodman
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All free votes are free votes, but some are less free than others.  Today's same-sex marriage bill vote will help to prove the point.  The programme motion will be whipped.  So, as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart point out this morning, will some votes be at committee and report.  The Second Reading vote won't be completely free from whipping, either - or at least a form of it.

The Whips Office is officially neutral on Second Reading. (Indeed, a chunk of the office will vote against it).  And there is a lively backbench whipping operation against second reading.  But with both David Cameron and George Osborne in favour of the bill, and effectively controlling patronage between them, requests to "help" the Prime Minister today have a certain status.

Continue reading "Will more than half the Conservative Parliamentary Party follow Cameron into the Aye lobby this evening?" »

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?

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

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:

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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.

Continue reading "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." »

2 Feb 2013 07:40:55

Cameron says he feels "very strongly" about married tax allowance but delays its introduction for FOURTH time

By Tim Montgomerie
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© i-Images

A promise to introduce a tax allowance for married couples was one of the first commitments that David Cameron made when he stood for Tory leader in 2005*.

When he told the Tory Conference in 2006 that marriage should be between a man and a man and a woman and a woman, as well as a man and a woman it was in the context of policies to support the family, including "recognising marriage more directly in the tax system"**.

In July 2007, during an interview with Channel 4's Jon Snow, David Cameron himself made an explicit link between gay partnerships and the marriage tax allowance***.

In January 2010, months before the general election, the Tory leader insisted he felt "very strongly" about "recognising marriage in the tax system"****.

A married couples' allowance is popular with voters. It is more pro-poor than increasing the tax allowance because it disproportionately benefits single earner couples. It brings us into line with nearly every other developed country in the world (© David Willetts). There is explicit wording in the Coalition Agreement which commits Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain so that the tax allowance can pass with Tory votes.

Yet today we learn that the Chancellor will not introduce the allowance in this Budget but later in the parliament. This will be the fourth opportunity to introduce the tax allowance that will have been missed. Forgive me but I'm getting suspicious. Very suspicious. Why is something that the PM feels "very strongly" about taking so very long to deliver? If it is delayed much longer and to a pre-electioneering stage of the parliament I can see Lib Dem MPs voting against a measure which they've always hated. If it's not delivered next month I doubt it will ever be delivered. 

Continue reading "Cameron says he feels "very strongly" about married tax allowance but delays its introduction for FOURTH time" »

29 Jan 2013 10:35:11

An encouraging report on childcare for Elizabeth Truss

By Paul Goodman
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Elizabeth TrussSince Elizabeth Truss is an Education Minister, I can't resist writing a school report for her - even though she hasn't been in the job for long, and we are a long way away from the end of term.  She is making a big speech about childcare at Policy Exchange - where else? - at lunchtime, but it's very clear what her ideas are, since they have been well-trailed over the weekend and on this morning's Today programme: indeed, she set them out on this site recently.  I would mark them, then, very high on the supply side and rather lower on the demand side - though, to be fair to her, the real decision-maker on the demand side is the Treasury.  Let me explain.

On the supply side, government should recognise that parents want to care for their children in different ways.  Schools that offer childcare have an advantage over private, independent and voluntary providers in that they don't pay rates or VAT, and are often better placed to cope with the burden of inspections.  Gordon Brown's childcare programme was, characteristically, to trumpet proclamations about "free places", and then not provide the money.  His Government and the non-state sector was thus soon at war over top-up fees.  And Brown's SureStart scheme was wastefully targetted.

Continue reading "An encouraging report on childcare for Elizabeth Truss" »

18 Jan 2013 07:57:56

How Cameron could lose the same-sex marriage bill

By Paul Goodman
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GayweddingThe details of Commons manoevering on contentious bills are swiftly forgotten.  It is only a few months since the House of Lords Reform Bill row, but some will already have forgotten that it wasn't defeated on the floor of the House.  Rather, the Government calculated that it would lose a vote on the programme motion for the bill: such motions set the timetable for its debate at committee and report stage.  If the programme motion had gone down, the Commons could have been clogged up for months with discussion of the bill that the Whips might not have been able to control.  So it was pulled.

I have spoken during the last few days to three sources who insist that the same-sex marriage bill could meet the same fate.  One is a senior Conservative backbench opponent of the measure.  The other is a well-placed Government Minister.

Both agree that David Cameron and the bill's supporters want to get it on the statute book as soon as possible.  They would like to see its Tory opponents confronted and defeated in public...but at the same time they don't want to see them obtain large-scale media coverage.  This means avoiding at all costs a committee stage held on the floor of the Commons - or at least one that goes on for a long time and crowds out other business.  Ideally, the bill's supporters would like to see committee stage held in a room off the Committee corridor, where debate can quietly be guillotined and media coverage will be less intense.

Continue reading "How Cameron could lose the same-sex marriage bill" »

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...

8 Jan 2013 11:08:04

To make his family policy fair, the Chancellor should introduce transferable tax allowances in the coming budget

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-01-08 at 10.42.13The most simple way to support couples with children, an established aim of the tax system, is through a universal payment that is neutral between families that work in different ways, and which they can thus use for childcare as they want.  In practice, this means that transferred allowance or tax rebate called child benefit, or something rather like it.  In principle, such an arrangement recognises choice, an idea propagated by Conservatives for time out of mind.  And if a government wants to recognise marriage in the tax system, the means that is most neutral between one-earner couples and two-earner ones is a marriage tax allowance.

We don't yet know the details of the Government's childcare policy, but it's clear that this will be a good deal less elegant.  George Osborne has already curtailed child benefit for better-off people.  In the short-term, this is acceptable as a deficit reduction measure (though means-testing a payment as straightforward as child benefit is already bringing anomalies and more bureaucracy in its wake).  In the longer-term, the Treasury will try to continue this transfer of money from parents to other causes - part of the long squeeze on family incomes chronicled in detail by Patricia Morgan.  That should be resisted.

Continue reading "To make his family policy fair, the Chancellor should introduce transferable tax allowances in the coming budget" »

7 Jan 2013 06:13:20

The Conservatives and women - a week-long series on ConHome

By Paul Goodman
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Margaret Thatcher understood the importance of the women's vote and this newspaper advert was produced under her leadership.

Tim Montgomerie writes in today's Times (£) that David Cameron and Nick Clegg's joint appearance today will presage "childcare initiatives, a single-tier state pension and help for elderly people to afford long-term care. Women will be the biggest beneficiaries of this programme — the 50 per cent of the population who just happen to be least impressed with what the coalition has achieved so far".  So this is not a bad day in which to launch a week-long ConservativeHome series on the Conservatives and women - with a stress on winning votes.

Such a series will provoke at least as many questions as it answers.  Women are sometimes bracketed by the Left alongside ethnic minorities or gay people.  But does it really make sense to consider half the population in this way?  Indeed, how much sense does it make to talk of "women's issues" at all?  Are there "men's issues"?  Should childcare, for example - which Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister, will consider on this site tomorrow - be considered a women's issue alone, and if so why?

Continue reading "The Conservatives and women - a week-long series on ConHome" »