Conviction or political calculation?
I have very little to say about giving legal status to marriage between individuals, regardless of gender. A rose by any other name an’ all that .. I’m all for letting people decide for themselves, which means that I support the facilitating legislation but good grief … what a fuss!
However, I am much more interested in the way that the commentariat keep insisting that Cameron ‘really, really believes’ in marriage and is ‘passionate’ about the rights of homosexuals to be married… and that is the reason that he has pushed on, in spite of the howls of rage from his party … not to mention more than half of his MPs voting against him.
Is Cameron, ‘really, really’ committed to there being single sex marriages?
What short memories the media have…. Have they forgotten George Osborne’s article in the Times, a few months ago? The one in which he wrote about the strategic importance of gay marriage, which Steve Richards describes as being ‘extensively highlighted’.
George Osborne wrote:
“President Obama’s high-profile endorsement of equal marriage for gay couples also enthused younger voters…. polls found that a majority of all Americans supported him on the issue.”
“It is worth reflecting that in Britain, as in America, a clear majority of the public support gay marriage, and an even bigger majority of women support it. That majority support is just as high in the North as it is the South, and it is equally high among all socio-economic groups”. (1)
Steve Richards suggests:
Evidently Osborne hopes that support for the policy will soften the perception of the Conservative leadership – among women voters in particular. And he must hope that his stance will attract the approval of other voters from all regions and classes. As they embark on a whole range of ill thought through and in some cases outdated reforms, the Tory leadership has with this policy a shield marked “modern” – taking on some crusty old party members, archbishops and the Telegraph. (1)
I can’t help but feel that this is taking the electorate to be more stupid than they are but nevertheless, ‘Taking on some crusty old party members’ seems all too familiar a strategy. It is straight from the Anthony Blair playbook of political tactics. Opposition from within your own party is supposed to convince the rest of the electorate that your leadership is different from, ‘modernising’ and making a break, from the things that the electorate don’t like about your party. In other words, it is an attempt to convince the electorate that Cameron, Osborne et al are not like the rest of the ‘nasty party’.
Very sweetly, Steve Richards concludes:
‘I hope I am wrong on this, but Osborne should not have been quite so candid as to why his party might benefit electorally if it is associated with gay marriage. That is not why this small but important change should be implemented.’(1)
Given the parallel between the Osborne and Blair’s tactics, my interest was heightened by a recent report in the Independent about Cameron’s ‘new best friend’, Tony Blair. It seems that the nonpareil Blairite is once again showing where his true colours lie.
‘Early on in his leadership, when he was courting votes from the political centre, David Cameron once claimed he was the “heir to Blair”. He later distanced himself from this label, insisting he was a true Conservative more in the mould of Margaret Thatcher.
Yet the inherited title may be, once again, more accurate than Mr Cameron would care to admit to his party – including his rebellious backbenchers. It has emerged that the Prime Minister has been taking personal advice from his predecessor-but-one, including discussions about waging a new war on terror in North Africa, just as the former premier did in the Middle East.’ (2)
David Cameron’s history on ‘gayness’ also deserves a recap. In a pre-GE video interview with Gay Times, he came a cropper in an unconvincing attempt to persuade the audience that the Tory party had changed its views on equality issues. In particular, Cameron struggled to answer questions such as whether Conservative peers would have a free vote on civil partnerships, or whether how the Tories voted would be decided by party whips. Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw said that it was “extraordinary” that the Conservative leader had said equality matters should be left to a free vote.
“[Cameron has] talked a good talk on some of these issues but his voting record hasn’t been very good. He’s learned a script, but when he’s actually scrutinised and forgets the script, he doesn’t have the fundamental core belief to support him in his argument.”(3)
Furthermore, in spite of a 2009 public apology for section 28 (the controversial Tory legislation introduced in the 1980s that banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools), Cameron voted against the repeal of section 28 as recently as 2003.
All in all, the evidence stacks against Cameron having a sudden turn of empathy or an unfamiliar attack of conviction. However, short the commentariat’s memory, it seems all too likely that Cameron was simply following the diktats of his mentor, Blair, and his Grand Strategist, George Osborne. This was a simplistic political calculation in an attempt to increase the Tories’ electoral appeal by appearing ‘modernising’.
As Steve Richards writes:
The term “modernisation” is the most over-used and least precise term in British politics.
The imprecision of the term is of course why it is deployed so extensively. An evasive concept with a hint of dynamic intent makes it highly attractive for leaders.
Most days of the week I still read that David Cameron and George Osborne are “modernisers”. The assertion, or description, shows how flexible the term has become. On most policy areas the continuity with the Thatcher era is much more marked. There is little evidence to suggest that they break with their party’s recent past, which is presumably what modernisation means if it is to mean anything at all.
Or for a more formal analysis from Marxist Nutter:
Post-modern/ post-structuralist theory is all about the lack of fixed foundations on which to root a ‘truth’. In many versions of post-modernist thought, truth is something which cannot be grounded on reason; but instead is an expression of hegemony or – in other words- what most people believe to be true. Regardless of whether or not you subscribe to post-modern theory, I think you must take this claim seriously, if not at a theoretical or normative level, then at the level of empirical observation. Our political reality – the truth – is indeed something that is constructed by discourse and not something grounded in facts or reason. (4)
(Naturally, Tom Pride has a somewhat different take – Tory MPs oppose samey sex marriage citing concerns about future of kinky sex )