There are various reasons why Cameron was so startlingly humiliated on Thursday night over his plans to attack Syria. The most important reason, of course, was Miliband’s last-minute change of mind (whether you think it was weak, or unprincipled or both hardly matters) over supporting a motion which had already been rewritten to reflect his hesitations over supporting the government, making it necessary, if passed, to have another vote sometime this week before actually going ahead with military action in the middle East.
But it was Tory votes that really humiliated him: he couldn’t even deliver his own party, let alone Miliband’s. The fact that Cameron, up until the last minute, actually expected Miliband’s support meant that rather than (as he had over Europe) appeasing the anti-Cameron bloc of Tory MPs (anything between 60 and 120, depending on the issue) by talking to them and explaining himself and appealing to their party loyalty – (which I remember was once commonly described — this just shows how old I am getting—as the Tories’ “secret weapon”, giving them a natural advantage over the perpetually feuding Labour Party) – instead of paying them a little attention, he displayed towards them and their views his usual arrogant contempt, and just ignored them. As Benedict Brogan puts it in today’s Telegraph, “Mr Cameron remains hamstrung by the history of his relationship with his colleagues. As a young adviser privileged to be in the inner circle of successive Tory leaders, he didn’t trouble to cultivate those without the same social connections or intellectual fizz…. Since becoming Prime Minister he has taken positions – on gay marriage, for example – designed to drive traditional Tories to distraction. And along the way, through acts of negligence and high-handedness, he has accumulated enemies who last Thursday were motivated more by a desire to smack his self-satisfied chops than to redefine Britain’s place in the world.” This led to his defeat, as around 60 Tory MPs either abstained or actually voted in the Labour lobby—a very serious thing for a Tory to do.
Brogan’s mention of gay marriage is important here, as a prime example both of of Cameron’s arrogance and of his bad political judgment. As I wrote in my last column, written just before his humiliating and unexpected defeat over his proposal to intervene in Syria, “do not mistake me: such ‘interventions’ are not always morally wrong. What Cameron wants to do is, he genuinely believes, for reasons of high moral principle. But so was the imposition on our culture of gay marriage: we are entitled to ask ourselves whether or not we trust Cameron’s ideas of what moral principles actually are, any more than we would trust those of Tony Blair (a Prime Minister, who has been far more influential over Cameron, ‘the heir to Blair’ don’t forget, than, say Margaret Thatcher).”
Some Tory commentators think that Cameron has got away with railroading gay marriage through Parliament, that all those Tories who resigned from their local parties, and the much larger number of Tory voters who swore at the time that they would not vote for him at the next election — would abstain or even vote for Ukip — are now returning to the Tory fold. I disagree. Just before the vote on gay marriage, I wrote 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. According to a ComRes poll, taken this month … 20 per cent of those who voted Conservative in 2010 agree with the statement: ‘I would have considered voting Conservative at the next election but will definitely not if the Coalition Government legalises same-sex marriage.’ That includes me…. Now Cameron is about to enact same-sex ‘marriage’, which did not figure, either in his election manifesto or in the Coalition agreement. I will never vote Tory again, so long as Mr Cameron remains Tory leader.” That remains true, I am convinced, of many of the voters Cameron needs to win, and not just of me.
As for last Thursday, I think that gay marriage may well be the issue which hardened the hearts of many of those Tories who, for the first time ever on an issue of war and peace refused to back their own Prime Minister when otherwise they would normally have swallowed their doubts and remained loyal in a time of international crisis.
Cameron lost the vote on Thursday by a mere 13 votes. I thought I would look at the list of those Tories who either voted against Cameron or abstained (in practical terms the same as a vote against), to see how many of them also voted against him over gay marriage. It adds up to 32 votes. Just so you know I have done my homework over this, here are the names. All of them opposed him over gay marriage. First, those who actually voted against him on Thursday:
David Amess (Southend West)
Richard Bacon (Norfolk South)
Andrew Bingham (High Peak)
Fiona Bruce (Congleton)
David Davies (Monmouth)
Philip Davies (Shipley)
David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden)
Nick de Bois (Enfield North)
Richard Drax (Dorset South)
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne & Sheppey)
Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
Adam Holloway (Gravesham)
Julian Lewis (New Forest East)
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage)
Anne-Marie Morris (Newton Abbot)
Sir Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)
Now, those who abstained:
Adam Afriyie (Windsor)
Henry Bellingham (Norfolk North West)
Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West)
Bill Cash (Stone)
Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
Geoffrey Cox (Devon West & Torridge)
Nadine Dorries (Bedfordshire Mid)
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
Chris Kelly (Dudley South)
Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater & Somerset West)
John Redwood (Wokingham)
Andrew Rosindell (Romford)
David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
After the vote, the Evening Standard reported that the Monmouth MP David Davies (see above), in a letter published by his local paper, had issued a public apology for the “incompetence” shown by David Cameron’s Coalition government, and had attacked the Prime Minister’s actions over gay marriage (and also his attempted actions over Lord’s reform). “May I also offer my apologies to those who feel the Conservative-led coalition has let them down,” he wrote. “I must acknowledge there has been incompetence at the highest levels of government over the last few months in a number of departments.” But Cameron’s humiliation on Thursday had nothing to do with incompetence: it had to do with his arrogance and his bad judgment over issues of fundamental principle. And the most fundamental of all has been his undermining of the institution of marriage between a man and a woman. He has undermined the bedrock of society: and he will continue to pay the price.