A matter of timing


As MPs prepare to register a vote on gay marriage, the atmosphere in the Commons is….mostly blasé on the Labour and Lib Dem side; tense and rather angry on the Conservative side.

To be sure there are Labour and even Lib Dem MPs on both side of today's argument...but they seemed almost carefree, compared to most Conservatives I spoke to.

A walk around Portcullis House this morning found MPs muttering about the fire and brimstone sermons they'd heard at church on Sunday, leafing through briefings from the Church of England and studying letters from their local bishop. All parties were feeling the heat, but the real angst was among Conservatives - not just because a lot of Tories instinctively disliked the bill, but also because of the way such a toxic issue had been handled.

Take the forthcoming Eastleigh by-election. Many Conservatives looked forward to road-testing their new line on an EU referendum in what will inevitably be a high profile by-election. But will they now find themselves trying to stop their rivals in UKIP using gay marriage to shake their traditional supporters loose?

Several Conservative MPs mentioned the unrest the issue provokes in the ranks, and note that the timing is particularly unfortunate as the English County Council elections loom in May. Rather than rallying the troops for a major electoral test, they're having to soothe the upset and talk down those threatening to desert.

And to borrow Churchill's phrase: "This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end…." Today's second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill marks only the first stage of a the parliamentary processing of gay marriage. And plenty of tripwires will remain, even after this evening's votes on the bill and the programme motion, which will set out the timetable for further consideration. This bill will still be live as the by-election and county election campaigns gather pace.

It's this timing that mystifies and infuriates many on the Conservative benches. Why not announce a draft bill in the Queen's Speech, set up a scrutiny committee and debate and consult at length, they ask. Why upset the troops now? And - free vote or not - this angst will not be contained by some "electrified ring-fence"; it will spill over into other issues and could cost ministers dear.

Incidentally, I don't buy the view that this bill will never get through the Lords - I suspect the overwhelming majority of Labour and Lib Dem peers, plus quite a number of Conservatives and crossbenchers, will vote for it, and it will pass the Upper House quite comfortably.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Timing? How bad is it that AIBs to be liquidated? Seem to recall they owe UK a lot of cash.

    Bonuses not being paid &/or clawed back to pay fines will hit Treasury receipts as will provision by banks for 'swaps' claims. May be Dave has been crafty, setting things up so he can say to Labour "Will you back us on removal of spouses' IHT concession?"

    Might get Dave & GO out of the 50>45% mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    While listening to R4's Moral Maze, I was struck by the thought that David Cameron may be pursuing this legislation in order, some way down the line, to NOT add tax benefits for married couples but to instead take away the tax concession on Inheritance Tax.

    Our Government seems to be exploring or teeing up all sorts of tax raising possibilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Something concerns me about the new regulations regarding gay marriage.

    I have to wonder whether the whole edifice is simply to boost the revenue of tax lawyers.

    Inheritance tax can simply be beaten by someone marrying before death.
    The new proposals mean this is now open to all.

    Has this been contemplated?
    A never ending dynasty held together by people marrying before death.
    No tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    all parties have their pro & anti factions, why it is the Tories who always seem to be the loudest & most onoixious"

    whilst I disagree with them, the "anti" views seem to just be genuinely held beliefs expressed coherently.

    If you always find opinions different from your own 'obnoxious' it reveals much about you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The hypocrisy is astounding from both places, how many have been iding in closets over this subject? who prior to being publicly unmasked announce to the world...heck I recall some that got highly paid work in the BBC...

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    You're right there, this Bill will comfortably pass both Houses, bishops or no bishops. It's only the Tories getting their knickers in a twist. Imagine if this was six months before the general election, nervous breakdowns all round!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I support the general intentions of the bill.

    However the more inequalities that we overcome, the more inequalities will be created.

    Very careful drafting is needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Wihlst, as Mr Darcy points out, all parties have their pro & anti factions, why it is the Tories who always seem to be the loudest & most onoixious then publicly airing their differences.....

    ....this Parliament reminds me of the Labour party in the days of militant tendancy......

    ....that was an ugly spectacle then as this one is now......



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