Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Why I Am Coming Very Close To Leaving the Conservative Party

by Will Wallace

Two different paths for the Conservative Party to follow
(source: Daily Telegraph)

Today, MPs will be voting on the Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are united in supporting the new legislation - the Conservatives however face a 50/50 split over the issue. The party has certainly made great progress under David Cameron’s leadership: to think that just 25 years ago, the party introduced Section 28 in which local authorities were prohibited from “promoting homosexuality” - the party even opposed its repeal in 2000. Considering that the leadership of the Conservatives are now pushing for equality in the marital system, we’ve come a long way since Section 28.

There are those on the Right of the Conservative Party that fiercely oppose reform and have begun an exodus from the party - I am definitely not one of those people. When the likes of David Burrowes and Stewart Jackson stand up in the House of Commons and claim that equal marriage will be the slippery slope to legalising polygamy and bestiality, it shames me to say that they are members of the same political party as me. In recent months I have become increasingly alienated by their comments, so much so that I have struggled to see how I can be a part of a party that makes an issue out of something as basic as equal rights.

So why haven’t I left yet?

Well I’ve decided that, at the end of the day, the important things keeping me in the Conservative Party are my common sense, sanity and the fact that my IQ isn’t below average. Oh, and also because I regard equality to be a very conservative principle, bizarrely. Despite what The Guardian says, the foundations of conservative thinking rest on a united, strong society - before Thatcher put an end to consensus politics in 1979, the party stood for ‘elevating the condition of the people’: One Nation Conservatism.

Today is also significant in that it is exactly 225 years since the death of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the modern Conservative Party. Peel is often described as being the first true 'compassionate conservative', largely due to his progressive social reforms. His political career ended largely due to the party's 50/50 split over the repeal of the mercantilist tariff known as the "Corn Laws". It would have been easy for him to have avoided the Conservative Party from dividing over the issue: he could have simply done a U-turn or withdrawn the legislation. However, he was acutely aware the the Corn Laws were damaging to the economy and the stability of the established order of the nation. So rather than allow the traditionalist factions of his party to keep a foot on the throat of the country's prosperity, Peel pushed the reforms through Parliament but had no option but to resign within days. Cameron could learn a valuable lesson from Peel, which is this: when you're in government, act in the interest of the country and not the political party that you lead. To sum it up with a catchy motto - Country First!

The problem that the party really faces is not over this issue, but over the infatuation of many Conservatives with Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcherites today are the driving force behind the anti-equal marriage campaign, and will only drag the party down. Today’s vote is a real test for the party. If Conservative MPs put their country before their party, then they’ll support the bill. If they really believe in strong families and the freedom of religion, then they’ll support the bill. If they remember that the institution of marriage makes our society stronger, then they’ll support the bill. But if they choose to ignore the facts and be wooed by the thinking of 30 years ago, then I’ll join the Liberal Democrats, because frankly I’d rather not be associated with a party of bigots.

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