Monday, 20 May 2013

Gay marriage row.. Ben Brogan's morning briefing

Good morning. It's all shaping up into another unseemly - and largely avoidable - mess for Dave and co. His control over the Tory infantry - which was always based on the premise that he represented the Tories' best path to a Commons majority - seems more tenuous than ever.
As if last week's fights over Europe and loonygate weren't enough, the party is in particularly rebellious mood over gay marriage, the Bill for which reaches Report stage in the Commons today. An amendment to allow straight couples to enter into civil partnerships is seen as a wrecker. As the FT (£) reports, Maria Miller claims it would delay the introduction of same-sex marriages before the next election due to changes in IT systems. And it would cost an extra £4 billion too, in state pensions for straight couples.
Of course, officially none of this counts as a rebellion. That may be true but if, as seems likely, 150 Tory MPs oppose the PM during today's votes - including Owen Paterson and David Jones - then it rather amounts to a primal scream against the direction of travel Dave is dragging his party in. So he is now left relying on Labour and Lib Dem support to drag the measure through. And he should be nervous: as we report, many Labour MPs plan to back the amendment, apparently unconvinced by claims of the difficulties it would cause the same-sex marriage Bill.
It all couldn't have come at a much worse time for Dave, following on from the "loons" comment which Lord Feldman denies. Inevitably, this is being used as cover for wider attacks on Cameron and his project. As theTimes (£) notes, the Bow Group have complained of the "lack of a Conservative vision and narrative in leadership and Government". Meanwhile, over 30 current and former Conservative association chairmen yesterday handed a letter to No 10 accusing Dave of "treating the membership with contempt" over his support for gay marriage. One minister also told the Times (£), MPs are glimpsing an opportunity "to break the gang of chums". Brian Binley, an MP and member of the party's board, said "There is a feeling that a group of people feel that they have taken over the party."

Never one to miss the opportunity for a skirmish with Dave and co, Nige has taken out a full-page advert in today's Daily Telegraph in which he describes the "loons" comment as "the ultimate insult" and pleads Tories sick of the "contempt" with which they're treated to "Come and join Ukip today and together we will get out country back."
And in truth Nige has rather a lot of material to work with as he tries to pick off a Tory base who feel, more than ever, that their party now speaks for Notting Hill and little else. As we report, one acting Tory chairman has described the loons comment as "the final straw" and is defecting to Ukip. He won't be the only one either, especially as the feeling grows that Ukip could well win next year's European elections - even a senior  No 10 figure admits that is is a "reasonable assumption", according to theTimes (£). The latest ComRes poll puts Ukip on 19 pc.
As Tory party historian Tim Bale writes for us, the whole unfortunate charade is emblematic of the wider disenfranchisement of activists over many years - leaving only those "more ideological or careerist" left.
"To attend party conference nowadays is to see this split manifest. A few members of the silent majority still gamely turn up, but many more who might have gone before are absent – priced out of the event by the lobbyists and wannabes, or else convinced that it’s all got a bit too serious".
Lord Feldman can expect plenty of questions at the Conservative Party's monthly board meeting in London this afternoon. If nothing else, his party leader should be able to empathise. He is, as Tim Montgomerie writes in the Times (£), now "a man caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war." For Steve Richards in the Guardian, the time has already arrived to evaluate where it all went wrong for Dave:
"It is too late for Cameron to change tack. He can only busk it and hope for the best. The next leader of the Conservative party must decide, without ambiguity or qualification, whether he or she wants to update their party substantially or give reheated Thatcherism one more throw of the dice. We know what happens when a young, untested leader tries to do both."

Michael Gove is having a spat with head teachers - whatever next? Following criticism from Bernadette Hunter, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, on Saturday, Gove has responded in today's Times (£). He declares her reaction "so depressing" and refuses to "compromise on standards to appease the defeatists". With not many friends in the education unions left to lose, Gove will increase his efforts to deal directly with academy heads and training schools.

Tory MPs may have loved the idea of fracking in abstract, but when they face the prospect of it being in their own backyards it doesn't seem quite so appealing. As reported in the FT (£), one Tory says "It's a whole different matter when people will see gas production in the rolling hills of Surrey". As the government looks to accelerate plans, 38 of the 62 MPs in the southeast - 35 of them Conservatives - are in constituencies with existing oil and gas reserves.
19 senior businessmen, including Sir Richard Branson, have signed a letter to The Independent accusing Eurosceptic MPs of putting "politics before business" and warning that EU membership is worth £31 billion - £92 billion a year in income gains. They call to "strengthen and deepen the Single Market" to boost British GDP.  

Tough work if you can get it, eh? As we report, parliamentary authorities are considering whether to give MPs a salary rise - around £10,000 is likely - in exchange for relinquishing some pension entitlements. Nothing like some shared cost-of-living concerns to help bonding with constituents.


Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders tries to do his bit for Tory unity:

@adriansandersmpThere's a Conservative Councillor, Neil Wilson, in Newton Abbot who tweets under the name Swivel Eyed Loon - You couldn't make it up


In the Telegraph
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - Here’s the speech Cameron should give now
Michael Gove in The Times (£) - Apologise for expecting the best? No chance
Paul Johnson in the FT (£) - Britain needs a broader debate over cuts

10:00 am London: Nick Clegg speech to Nacro on crime and rehabilitation.