The BBC reports that:
MPs have approved legislation for same-sex marriage in England and Wales, despite the opposition of dozens of Conservative MPs.
The Commons voted in favour of the The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, by 400 to 175, a majority of 225, at the end of a full day’s debate on the bill.
This is clearly a good thing – one we can all be happy about. The article goes on to tell us that:
Prime Minister David Cameron has described the move as “an important step forward” that strengthens society.
And I think he’s right. My questions today, however, circle around how he reached his conclusions. Was his desire – a very personal one it seems – to ensure this legislation was passed driven entirely by honest conviction or, alternatively, was there more than a pinch of old-fashioned triangulation behind the horse and cart he’s smashed through his party? After all, as the BBC also indicates:
Former children’s minister and Conservative MP Tim Loughton told the BBC that he believed “140 or so” of his party colleagues had voted against the plans, along with “a small rump of Labour MPs” and “four Lib Dem MPs”.
He added: “Apparently there are 132 Conservative MPs who voted in favour, so I think what we’re going to see is that more Conservative MPs voted against this legislation than for it.”
The Lib Dem leaders are, of course, clearly delighted with the measure – it allows them to go back to their faithful with a truly liberal concept on the table. But, as is perhaps too often the case, I am suspicious of the motivations. And it begins to make me wonder if the name-calling that situates Clegg on the conservative (where not Conservative) right of the spectrum is encouraging us to simplify what it is happening in British politics. Perhaps, indeed, for our own traditionally located interests.
As Clegg drags – in a complex but certain manner – his political party to the first taste of real government in generations, so Cameron may be aiming to hollow out in some constructive way the noisy and nasty party that is the Tories. We on the left have looked to (maybe) simplistically paint the Lib Dems as just hanging onto the coattails of an unpleasantly irrelevant and Etonite England. But (maybe) the process is a tad more engineered than that.
If we see the Coalition of Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems in terms of a corporate merger between a large and untidily ancient behemoth of contradictory decisions and a small and guerilla-like company of instant advantage-taking – the former perhaps an IBM before it reinvented itself, whilst the latter perhaps an Amstrad in its awfully excitable heyday – then the massive adventure which the two leaders have embarked on, both its downsides and upsides, both its potential risks and paybacks, becomes far far clearer. Here we could argue that it’s the Alan Sugar/Nick Clegg-type pick-and-mix opportunists who visibly have the vision and agility of perceptions, even where they do not have the distribution network and other infrastructures various. Meanwhile, the transnational corporate/David Cameron-led thinkers, dinosaur-like and history-riven as they are, have all of the infrastructures and contacts, even as they are unable any longer to provide the “market” with exactly what it needs.
Maybe the Equal Marriage bill was driven by conviction. But I truly wonder if it wasn’t part of a much greater and broader understanding to revise and restructure the populist centre ground in, at the very least, England and Wales. And that could mean just as much allowing the rancid Tory right to destroy themselves in their echo chambers as it could mean dragging a traditionally reflective and thoughtful strand of often principled political thought into the unhappy but (maybe) necessary glare of rather cruel 21st century government.
With these words, I’m not saying I agree at all with the vast majority of policies that have resulted from this process.
But I do wonder, honestly wonder, whether the nexus of Cameron and Clegg – and its implications – is as easy to accurately describe and define as we sometimes seem to assume.
Especially for those of us on the left of political activity. But possibly – with the exception of the two men in question – for almost everyone else as well.