Gotta say it’s great being the long-serving member for Eketahuna North, rather than the member for a British constituency sitting in the House of Commons in London.
For starters, Alf fancies himself more as a House of Lords sort of bloke.
But if he had to settle for the Commons, he would be sitting there as a Conservative (and a proudly deeper-blue Tory than some others in that great party).
Accordingly he would have bridled, had he been warned his career and seat would be at risk if he did not back gay marriage in a free vote.
But there is a strong whiff that the consciences of MPs were tampered with to nudge them to vote in favour of allowing poofs to marry.
The Daily Mail reports (here) that –
Ministers warned backbenchers that their careers would be ruined if they did not support gay marriage, it was claimed last night.
Angry MPs have written to members of the House of Lords, telling them that the House of Commons did not have a truly free vote last week and that many felt coerced into the decision.
Conservative backbenchers are furious at the pressure exerted by Number 10, ministers and whips to back the legalisation of same sex marriage – which sailed through its third reading thanks to the support from Labour.
Some stroppy Tories – 15 of them – are urging the Lords to vote down the legislation when it comes before them on Monday.
It is a matter of convention for the Lords to ultimately bow to the will of the Commons – but MPs are now claiming that their will was ignored by the government.
Some claimed they were warned they would lose financial backing and campaigning help before the next election if they refused to back the Bill – a complaint refuted by government sources.
Despite being promised a free vote, backbenchers said they had had been advised not to defy the Prime Minister. Ultimately 130 Tories rebelled.
The letter from the 15 Tory MPs makes some good points.
‘The Government presses on without any mandate from a party manifesto. We are all elected representatives by none of us was elected on a platform to redefine marriage.
‘Genuine concerns about the impact on society’s understanding of marriage and the Bill’s implications for free speech and civil liberty have been swept aside.
‘Our postbags testify to the deep unpopularity of this Bill.
‘Most of our constituents simply believe marriage is a unique institution that forms the bedrock of society and should be left as it is.
‘Millions of people with marriage certificates imprinted “Marriage Act 1949” are entitled to ask what right anyone has to redefine their own marriages over their heads.’
Among the signatories of the letter are Tim Loughton, the former education minister whose attempt to extend civil partnerships to straight couples was voted down, Jim Paice, the former farming minister, and Sir Gerald Howarth, the former defence minister.
MPs complained the legislation had been railroaded through, with backbenchers given just four minutes for speeches at second reading while the committee put in charge of scrutinising the bill had 15 MPs in favour of gay marriage and four against.
It must be said the Conservative party strongly denied issuing threats to MPs who did not fall into line.
Alf trusts this is indeed the case.
A Tory party source said: ‘The Whips’ Office was strictly neutral and left it to the advocates on either side of the arguments to put forward their case.’
But a poll of MPs conducted by ComRes showed that almost three in ten Tories (27 per cent) did not feel they had a free vote on gay marriage, despite being promised one.
One in ten Labour MPs expressed the same opinion.
Angry MPs have pointed out that normally on conscience issues around 200 MPs would abstain. But on the second reading of the same sex marriage bill there were only 67 abstentions.