U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s handling of a vote on gay marriage showed disdain for his own supporters, some of his lawmakers say, questioning whether the premier is leading the Tory party in the right direction.
Cameron, 46, did not appear in the House of Commons during yesterday’s debate on his plans to give same-sex couples the right to marry, skipping about 70 speeches by lawmakers over six hours. Instead, he used Twitter Inc.’s social networking site to welcome the preliminary vote in favor of the proposal, in which 136 of the 303 Tories opposed the premier.
Cameron’s lack of involvement in the debate and the fact he scheduled the vote in the first place are signs he is out of touch with values held by the Conservatives’ core supporters, say some lawmakers, openly questioning whether the premier’s authority is waning as the party heads to elections in 2015.
“I do hope and I expect that as a bright man he will recognize the fact that there is a very strong sense of feeling within his own party that he’s got to pay some attention to, and that there has to be change,” Tory member of Parliament Roger Gale, 69, who opposed the gay-marriage proposal, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “If he doesn’t, he’ll end up with a lot of disaffected people.”
While Cameron gathered plaudits among his own lawmakers after pledging a referendum on the European Union last month, data the day after his speech showed the economy teetering on the edge of a triple-dip recession as the biggest budget cuts since World War II continue to bite. Opinion polls indicate the Tories are trailing the opposition Labour Party by about 10 percentage points nationwide.
Conservative activists say they fear gay marriage may cost the party enough votes to force it out of power in 2015, with the anti-European Union U.K. Independence Party picking up support.
“David Cameron has split the Conservative Party in half on gay marriage and failed to win a majority of Tory MPs,” Tory lawmaker Stewart Jackson, another opponent of gay marriage, said on Twitter today. “Labour win.”
Cameron only won the vote in the House of Commons in London last night by 400 to 175 with the support of Labour and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners. As it was a “free vote” in which lawmakers act according to their conscience, rather than on party lines, Cameron can technically say he did not face a rebellion.
The bill now moves on to detailed examination by a committee of the House of Commons. It may yet face defeat in the upper House of Lords or legal challenge from religious groups if it becomes law.
With yesterday’s Commons debate over, other Tory lawmakers called for the party to put its divisions behind it and unite against the threat from Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.
“If it was government business then this would be a significant rebellion, and I think it would’ve severely wounded the prime minister, but that is not the case,” one lawmaker, Mark Pritchard, told BBC News television. “I think we now move on as a parliamentary party, as a party in the country and unite around the prime minister in joining him in trying to fix the economy.”
One of his colleagues, Zac Goldsmith, said complaints about the premier not appearing in the House of Commons were out of place. The premier was meeting with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden when the debate started.
“The PM went out on a limb to get equal marriage through, but -- absurdly -- he’s still getting a kicking ’for not being in the chamber,”’ Goldsmith said on Twitter. “Really?!”
The Tories will face an electoral test in local votes across England in May, and they started campaigning today for a forthcoming special parliamentary election in the southern district of Eastleigh, in which they’ll go head-to-head with their coalition partners. The date for the vote hasn’t been set.
The seat became vacant when former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who held it for the Liberal Democrats, quit the Commons this week after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice over a speeding offense.
Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, who’s in charge of campaigning, was cited as telling the Daily Telegraph newspaper that voters in Eastleigh have “been let down by an MP who was being less than straightforward with his constituents”.
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