This week’s developments over gay marriage have left a febrile atmosphere in the Conservative party. As Fraser wrote yesterday, David Cameron seems to have driven his party ‘quite mad’ by pursuing the policy, and the mood in the tearoom after Maria Miller’s statement on Tuesday certainly seems to have underlined that.
I understand from a number of MPs that there was an ‘excitable’ confrontation between a member of the 2010 intake and one of the members of the Freedom to Marry group. The new MP was irritated by the position that his colleague had taken and was jabbing his finger angrily as he spoke. One of the names on the grapevine is Alec Shelbrooke, but when I spoke to him yesterday afternoon, he said he hadn’t been involved in a confrontation:
‘I certainly don’t remember an excitable conversation. But my position is that I won’t vote for this unless we leave the European Court of Human Rights.’
Tempers are running high, and one of the problems is that those who oppose gay marriage blame those in favour of it for causing such a row. Similarly, those who support the legislation are frustrated with its opponents for using such strong language in the Commons.
There are now a number of large splits in the Conservative party. Some MPs are in the rebel group on each issue. But the splits criss-cross different groups: there are the Lords rebels, the Europe rebels, the pro-statute and anti-statute Leveson groups, and the pro- and anti-gay marriage groups. As you move along that list, the splits and language across the divide become more and more emotional and heated.