British PM David Cameron has had a bad week. After the State Opening of Parliament the Queen’s speech quickly unraveled and then another rebellion took place by his own backbenchers with 50 voting against the government bill to allow gay marriage.
After the Queen’s Speech “116 Tory backbenchers voted for an amendment which criticised the Queen’s Speech for its lack of a government Bill paving the way for the promised “in/out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU”. Reports note that “Downing Street said the Prime Minister is “relaxed” about allowing senior Tories to register their criticism of the Government’s entire legislative agenda by voting alongside EU rebels in the Commons. Mr Cameron’s latest attempt to placate Conservative Right-wingers came as Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said the UK should be ‘ready to walk away’ from the EU. And in a further sign of growing pressure on Mr Cameron over the issue, Lord Lamont, the former Chancellor, became the latest Tory grandee to call for Britain to withdraw from the EU if its membership cannot be renegotiated to put it on a purely commercial basis”.
The piece adds “The rebel amendment states that the House ‘respectfully regrets that an EU referendum bill was not included in the Queen’s Speech’. The vote, which would be largely symbolic, is expected next week if the amendment is called for debate by John Bercow, the Commons Speaker. Mr Cameron is not expected to vote as he will be out of the country next week. However, following next week’s debate, backbenchers intend to table a private members’ bill on the issue of an EU referendum. Downing Street sources indicated yesterday that MPs and ministers may be allowed to vote for that bill as well, raising the prospect of the Commons voting over laws to provide a referendum in the next Parliament. The Prime Minister’s apparent willingness to allow MPs and ministers to join rebels will be seen as further evidence of the growing unease in the Tory Party over the threat from the UK Independence Party”.
However, in reality Cameron had little choice but to allow his MPs to back the move, albeit, in the knowledge that it would probably be defeated. If he did not allow it he would have had an even bigger problem on his hands, therefore allowing his MPs to rebel was the least worst option.
Then things got worse when the government was trying to pass a bill allowing gay marriage. Reports note that “The Coalition avoided embarrassment after a last-minute deal with Labour to save the bill. Some 56 Conservative backbenchers – half the number predicted – backed a backbencher’s amendment the Government warned could fatally delay the reform. Eight Labour MPs, three Liberal Democrats and three SDLP members joined the Tory critics in the voting lobbies. But the move to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples was easily defeated in a free vote by a large majority of 370. David Cameron was given a lifeline yesterday after Ed Miliband decided to save the bill by tabling an amendment which would mean an immediate consultation on extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.”
The piece adds “Tim Loughton, a former Tory minister, accused ministers of doing a “grubby deal” with Labour to see off his amendment and said the battle would continue in the upper chamber. The Conservative leadership remains under fire from many senior party members vehemently opposed to the measure. One councillor last night accused ministers of showing ‘clear contempt for the deeply-held views of Conservative supporters’ and fuelling an exodus to the UK Independence Party. Culture Secretary Maria Miller defended the Government’s tactics insisting there was “overwhelming support” for the change, including among significant numbers in her own party. Mrs Miller had argued that extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples – supported in principle by many backers of gay marriage – would cause significant delays and costs”.
Another article mentions “Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats back the idea of civil partnerships for all. However, they have agreed to vote with Mr Cameron’s Conservative leadership to make sure the laws to legalise gay marriage are not hijacked or stalled. In return for the other parties’ rejection of the “wrecking” amendment, Mr Cameron looks set to support a Labour plan for an immediate consultation on extending civil partnerships. Previously the Government had only committed to examining this option after five years”.
All of this comes just days after an article was published on Saturday [18th May] where it was reported that a unnamed figure close to Cameron, with a hint that he went to Eton, called the grassroots of the party, “swivel eyed loons”. In an obvious effort to calm tensions Cameron sent a letter to party grassroots. An article notes “he Prime Minister tonight sent a ‘personal message’ to thousands of party volunteers, insisting that despite their differences over Europe and gay marriage, the leadership and the party had ‘a deep and lasting friendship’. Mr Cameron’s email was his first comment since The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers disclosed on Saturday that a member of his inner circle had described Conservative association members as ‘mad, swivel-eyed loons’.The Prime Minister did not refer explicitly to the remark, but insisted that he admired and respected his party’s activists.
These scandals will pass, yet the issue as many see as the problem is not the problem at all. The United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, has campaigned for decades to leave the EU. The local elections that took place recently also gave the party its best showing ever, has lent the party and air of prominence it does not normally have.
Some have said that the end of the unity on the Right has gone forever, “Suddenly, a significant chunk of conservative opinion is rejecting this historically successful approach. It is nothing like a majority, but it is a large proportion and it is starting to feel as though the split may be irrevocable. In part, this is Mr Cameron’s fault. He was so determined to attract new supporters – a noble and necessary aim – that he became careless about the feelings of his party’s existing voters. The Prime Minister’s casual decision to pick a fight on gay marriage with so many Tory members reinforced the idea that he does not like or respect the traditional wing. On the back of it, Ukip membership is rising (next stop 30,000) and Conservative membership looks likely to dip below 100,000. Describing those left in the Tory fold as “swivel-eyed lunatics” can only speed up the process. Worse, Mr Cameron has made these mistakes at just the moment when public contempt for existing institutions and professional politicians has boiled over. This has given the populist Mr Farage the most tremendous opportunity. Last night his party surged to 22 per cent in the latest poll, just two points behind the Tories”.
Yet this would be to misread the situation. The Tories lost seats in the local elections due to a bad economy and dissatisfaction with the state of British politics generally. The surge in UKIP support therefore was little more than a protest vote by the disaffected Right, and the generally disaffected. It should not be read as anything other than a temporary passing, largely due to the unfair situation of the UK having a two party voting system but more than two parties. This will ensure UKIP remain an outlier for years to come.