You can read headlines such as – Tories MPs set to revolt over gay marriage.
1. How dangerous is the the gay marriages debate for PM David Cameron?
2. Would you say this issue could be one of he defining issues of Cameron’s term or not, and why?
Martin Farr, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary British History, School of Historical Studies, University of Newcastle
1. I suspect not very, because there are still over two years to go before the election, and the measure will very soon be seen as what it is, common sense, and rather like the ban on smoking (and indeed, civil partnerships themselves) will soon become socially assimilated (there’s public support for the measure), and the fuss will have been forgotten. However, it will do nothing for his support on the right and with some grassroots activists, perhaps eroding his capital, but his likelihood of delivering a majority will be the greater issue.
2. I think it may be, although really only for those who are politically-concerned, as most will have forgotten, as I say above. It is the fullest demonstration of his ‘modernity’ and ‘compassion’, both key parts of the Cameron brand, but it could also be interpreted as representing those qualities which are less popular, or held to be: metropolitan, presidential, bloody-minded, and without mandate. Overall, however, I think other issues will be held to be more significant.
Mark Shephard, Senior Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Strathclyde
1. It is going to be difficult more than dangerous, although some in the Conservative Party may argue that if they lose the election next time, this issue played a role. The main variable to success at the next election however is the economy (according to a YouGov/Sunday Times poll only 7% of people (and only 5% of Conservative supporters) polled 31st Jan/1st Feb 2013 said the issue would have an impact on their vote at the next election). The majority of the population are in favour of gay marriages and so while some of the (typically older) Conservative Party membership may have problems with this policy, it is a vote winner (according to a YouGov/Sunday Times poll 54% of people polled 31st Jan/1st Feb 2013 said they were more likely to vote for a party that supports same-sex marriage), especially with people under 50 who the party will have to attract if they are to survive as a major party in the UK. That said, current Conservative voters said that they would be less likely to vote for a party that supports same-sex marriage and so it is arguably more of a gamble for Cameron in the short-term. In the long-term, and like civil partnerships, the issue will recede in importance and people will wonder what all the fuss was about.
YouGov/Sunday Times poll (see pages 4 and 5) reference.
2. It would be easier not to take this on at this time. I think it shows leadership and in the longer-term he will be remembered in a positive light for this both for improving the long-term electoral prospects of Conservatives and for advancing equality and for improving the stability and quality of life for many British families. Indeed, in a way, gay marriage is highly compatible with conservatism (especially the importance for family and stability).
Bill Jones, Professor of Politics, Liverpool Hope University
1. You have to see this in context of DC’s right wing which tends to hound their party leader to be true to genuine (Thatcherite) principles. Some of this group claim the issue could swing the election but surveys show Cameron probably has public opinion on his side.
2. In one sense it is a defining issue in that Cameron’s leadership has been an attempt to drag his party away from the dead hand of rightwing views which gave it the nickname ‘the Nasty Party’. Governing in austerity had encouraged the revival of this toxic image so all the more reason for DC to overcome internal party right wingers.
Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham
This is an issue that most voters don’t care about. But Cameron sees it as a way of reinforcing his attempt to show that his party is ‘modern’ and not ‘nasty’ any more. He failed to do that sufficiently before 2010 – hence his failure to win the election outright.
His problem is that many of his MPs don’t trust him and his strategy – and believe their party did not win in 2010 because he strayed too far from traditional Conservative policies and values. Such MPs have voted against him a lot since 2010 – over Europe and Lords reform to name but two issues.
What the gay marriage vote will do is reinforce misgivings in Conservative ranks about Cameron and highlight how un-modern his party is to voters. It won’t change anything dramatically but this is hardly helpful to.