Gay Tory 'outing threat' exposes split over same-sex marriage
Two Conservative journalists talk of threat to 'out' secretly gay Tories who vote against modernisation
GAY Tory blogger Iain Dale is at the centre of an 'outing' storm this morning after saying some married Tory MPs who are known to be closet gays could be outed for voting against gay marriage in the Commons tomorrow.
Dale hurriedly updated his blog, insisting he was not issuing a threat. But he is not alone in warning that secretly gay Tory MPs could be dragged out of the closet by the gay rights campaigners.
Tory commentator James Forsyth says that threats of blackmail against Tory MPs who intend to defy party leader David Cameron and vote 'No' to gay marriage are privately being discussed at Westminster.
Writing in his Mail on Sunday column, Forsyth says: "There's even dark speculation in the tea rooms that those with skeletons in their cupboard who vote against [gay marriage] will find these skeletons tumbling out on to the front pages... A growing number of MPs are simply refusing to discuss the matter with their colleagues."
But Iain Dale - who defended his remarks this morning on ITV's Daybreak - went further: "I've been looking at the Coalition for Equal Marriage's website, and their list of MPs who intend to vote against allowing gay people to marry on Tuesday.
"I note with interest the names of several MPs who most people in the Westminster Village know to be closet gays. And I note also the names of two supposedly straight MPs who I know to be conducting gay affairs at the moment. I don't believe in 'outing' anyone, but because of the rank hypocrisy there will be others who will take a different view."
Dale concluded: "How is it possible to be married yourself, and yet at the same time vote to deny that privilege to someone whose pants you have just pulled down?"
Whether Dale is right or wrong - and his comments have caused a lot of angry response this morning - it shows how nasty this debate has become, and how corrosive it threatens to be for David Cameron and the Conservative Party.
In his determination to modernise the party, Cameron is ready to defy a call by 20 current and former constituency party chairman - the grassroots supporters in the Tory shires - to delay the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill until after the general election. They said in a letter handed into Downing Street yesterday that the gay marriage row was doing "significant damage to the Conservative Party in the run-up to the 2015 election".
Tory MPs are being given a free vote as a matter of conscience in tomorrow's vote but there are now reports of arm-twisting by the Tory whips to try to avoid Cameron being disowned by the majority of his own party. The Sunday Telegraph reckons that as many as 180 Conservative MPs, including six whips and up to four members of the cabinet, are ready to vote against the prime minister's wish to legalise gay marriage.
This all comes at a time when the talk of a plot to topple Cameron by the clique backing Tory IT millionaire Adam Afriyie refuses to die down.
The weekend papers were full of reports about how Afriyie and his pretty wife Tracy-Jane have been building up his campaign with swanky Westminster suppers to win over more support. Ironically, Afriyie represents the modernising tendency that should be backing Cameron to the hilt - but the power game is bigger than single issue politics.
Wednesday morning is likely to dawn with Cameron looking completely out of step with much of his own party. And any fool can tell Cameron that the last thing the voters will put their X against is a party that is split from top to bottom.