Over the weekend, I have been ruminating over the reasons why the Conservative party narrowly lost control over my most important local authority, the highly rural Oxfordshire County Council. And I am quite sure that the most important of these reasons is that many Tory voters throughout the county voted for Ukip. In a local election, it doesn’t take many hundred votes to swing the result: and there is good reason to believe that, demonstrably in the Prime Minister’s own backyard in Witney, (of which more later) and elsewhere throughout the county, many of those votes were cast, and demonstrably cast, for Ukip over the issue of Cameron’s intention to legalise “gay marriage”.
A few weeks ago, you may remember that I wrote a post on what, according to the Guardian newspaper, Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, had concluded over the likely electoral effect of the Conservatives’ plans to legalise what it they are pleased to call “equal marriage”.
Farage told the Guardian that “David Cameron’s proposal has the potential to rip apart the traditional rural Tory vote. While Ukip wholly respects the rights of gay people to have civil partnerships, we feel the prime minister’s proposals will present an affront to millions of people in this country for whom this will be the final straw.
“The division between city and rural is absolutely huge. In my village pub in Kent they are just completely against.”
The intervention by Farage came, the Guardian reported, as Tory associations confirmed that many members had resigned over the issue. This has happened all over the country: and Mr Cameron has good reason to be well aware of it. In February, the Oxford Mail reported that he was “disappointed” that a former mayor of Chipping Norton had resigned from his local Conservative Party Association over gay marriage. Cicely Maunder, 64, according to the Oxford Mail, “binned” her party membership after MPs voted to back the legalisation of gay marriage in February.
She has also resigned as the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association’s Chipping Norton branch chairwoman. Asked why she had resigned, Mrs Maunder, who lives in Chipping Norton, said: “Because I am a Christian. If you look up the word ‘marriage’ in a dictionary, it is the joining together of one man and one woman to live legally together.
“I am quite happy for gay partnerships and I have no problem with gay people – I have gay friends.
“But pandering to a minority which insists on being equal is the last straw as far as I am concerned.”
The point is that when a local big cheese in a party organisation “bins” his or her party membership over an issue like this, it is rarely the end of the matter. And last week, the redoubtable Mrs Maunder was to be seen outside David Cameron’s party offices in Witney, at the head of a crowd of voters (many of them former Tories) demonstrating in defence of the traditional family. If you (or Mr Cameron) would like to see her doing it, here is a video of Mrs Maunder at the head of over 300 local voters protesting outside Cameron’s constituency office in Witney, Oxfordshire, against his plans to redefine marriage.
What effect will not only this particular protest, and all the local resignations from his own local party and others in his area, but also all the other local protests and resignations, all over the country, have on his plans for the future? A large number of his own MPs, it seems, want various changes in party policy to meet the threat from Ukip, including the abandonment of his pledges over gay marriage. They would like this threatened legislation not to appear in the Queen’s speech today. If Cameron is wise, he will respond to their pressure: he urgently needs to rebuild his electoral base. But if he had been wise, he would not have become involved in this issue (which was not in his election manifesto in 2010) in the first place. He is likely, it seems, to prove pigheaded over: according to the Guardian, “Cameron is determined to persist [with gay marriage] despite disagreements within his party.”
In February, I wrote here that “It is now becoming clear that marriage, more than Europe or the economy, is the issue which more than any other will lose the next election for the Tories. They cannot now win.” If this misbegotten bill appears in the Queen’s speech today I stand by that judgment (If I get it wrong, I will doubtless be reminded of it). I ended my article with these words, which begin with a quotation from a very well-written letter to Cameron from 25 Tory party chairmen.
“‘We are sure you will agree that the Conservative Party needs to do much more to attract ethnic minority voters to the Conservative cause. It is predicted that by 2030, 25 per cent of voters will be of ethnic minority background, most of whom oppose same-sex marriage’.”
That final point, I commented, “really does show how out of touch Cameron has become. He has just had the bright idea, it seems (on top of his renegotiation with the EU, etc etc) of trying to make the Tory party more attractive to black and Asian voters. And he forces through this vote on gay marriage? Is he totally out of touch with reality? But why do I even ask the question?”