The Debate: Will Tory divisions over same-sex marriage damage the party’s re-election prospects?

Paul Goodman

The same-sex marriage bill was not in the Conservative manifesto, the coalition agreement, or the last Queen’s speech. No green or white discussion paper has preceded it. But it was “whacked” through the Commons – to borrow the ugly but efficient word deployed by Boris Johnson – on a whipped timetable. It is this haste and speed which has so angered Tory MPs. It stands in contrast to ministers’ lack of urgency over transferable tax allowances for married couples – which is in the agreement. The bill will help propel traditional Tory voters towards the waiting embrace of UKIP. It has already forced large-scale resignations among the foot soldiers the party relies on to canvass. It will further endanger David Cameron’s leadership. And it assisted in producing a record post-2010 election poll lead for Labour yesterday. How can this be good for the party?

Paul Goodman is former Conservative MP for Wycombe and executive editor of ConservativeHome.

Alex Singleton

The opponents of gay marriage failed to make a decent argument and did not manage to sway public opinion – which, by some measures, broadly supports the change. In any case, the public will adjust to gay marriage just as it did to the legalisation of homosexuality, and to the lowering of the age of consent during the governments of John Major and Tony Blair. Yes, a handful of authoritarian right wing Tories will be disgruntled about the legislation. But by 2015 they will have other concerns, such as Europe and the economy. Meanwhile, among the majority who support gay marriage, the legislation helps David Cameron soften the Tories’ image. This will be particularly useful when the party’s economic policies come under criticism from Labour. This branding objective remains important – voters want not only to feel that their politicians have the right policies, but also that they are decent people.

Alex Singleton is managing director of the Singleton Group.