At around 8pm last night, someone in Sir George Young’s office phoned someone in Ed Miliband’s office. Not enough Tories are going to vote against the amendment from Tim Loughton intended to wreck the gay marriage bill, the person explained. Labour would have to vote against or risk the bill being derailed.
Ed Miliband agreed, and encouraged his MPs to do the same. In the end, the amendment was defeated, but only thanks to Labour’s action. So it was no surprise to see headlines such as that in the Guardian this morning, which read:
Labour saves gay marriage bill
Is this what David Cameron wanted? On yesterday’s evidence, it would seem so.
Rather than coming out fighting for the bill, which he had put at the centre of his modernising efforts, the prime minister seemed content to stay on the sidelines, doing little more than penning apologetic letters to Tory activists. It was a far cry from his 2011 conference speech, in which he told delegates:
I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.
Was the PM trying to distance himself from the whole issue, letting Labour take the credit and so avoiding the brickbats from his own side?
If so, he has put himself in no-man’s land. No one will believe he secretly agrees with his rebellious backbenchers – he has staked his colours too firmly to the mast for that. And yet he has now failed to take the credit for managing to achieve something which he personally pushed very hard for against strong resistance in his own party. Pusillanimity might buy Cameron some time with his backbenchers, but it also detracts from his own achievements.