Cameron and the gay schoolboys: is this how to win over Tory rebels?
PM says he's proud of his government's reforming style but promises to stick to 'the big picture' from now on
YOUNG boys at school who are gay will be able "walk a little taller" after the Commons passed the gay marriage bill, David Cameron claimed today.
His outspoken remarks about gay schoolboys may have left some Tory supporters choking on their cornflakes, but the Prime Minister made it clear he was making no apology to the many people in his own party who believe he is fundamentally wrong to have pushed the Same Sex Marriage Bill through the Commons.
Cameron told Radio 4's Today presenter James Naughtie that on the contrary he was proud of what he had done: "I think we should think about it like this – there will be young boys in schools today who are gay who are worried about being bullied, who are worried what society thinks of them, who can see that the highest Parliament in the land has said their love is worth the same as anyone else's love and we believe in equality and I think they will stand that bit taller today. I am proud of the fact that has happened."
Cameron's critics have accused him of taking leave of his party. By talking about gay schoolboys – with no reference to the age of consent – they are likely to accuse him of taking leave of his senses.
A total of 133 Tory MPs voted against the passage of the gay marriage bill through the Commons last night – that is nearly half of the entire Parliamentary Conservative party.
Yet the Prime Minister's bold, unapologetic support for gay marriage immediately gained Cameron plaudits in some quarters. The Guardian's Nick Watt tweeted: "This @David_Cameron guy very smart + very polished." Bernard Jenkin, a leading Tory eurosceptic critic of Cameron, tweeted that the PM was "always best in a crisis".
Cameron offered only one concession to the Tory MPs and the Tory activists who believe he has made a fundamental error in pushing through a bill that was never mentioned in the party election manifesto. He gave Jim Naughtie an assurance that from now on, he will be firmly fixed on the "big picture" issues – the economy, welfare reform and schools.
"If you are saying to me, is this the first of many issues like that, no it isn't. The government is going to be absolutely fixed on the big picture – fixing the economy, reform of welfare, making sure there are good schools…"
Few of his own MPs are likely to be convinced by that assurance. And nor will they be thrilled to hear that he is promising to carry on with the shotgun marriage to the Lib Dems right up until the 2015 general election. "That has always been my intention," Cameron told Naughtie. "We have an enormous amount of work to do. There is more to come."
The Tory rebels are also likely to be incensed by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's speech this morning telling them to get back to the job of government after their spat with Cameron.
Patrick Wintour, the political editor of The Guardian, who has been briefed on the speech, reports: "The deputy prime minister will accuse Tory MPs of ‘disappearing into a parliamentary rabbit warren, obsessing over this new tactic or that new trick: paving legislation, enabling referendums, wrecking amendments'."
For many Tory dissidents, Cameron's civil partnership with Clegg is the real "love that dare not speak its name" – and they want it to end now.