As UKIP’s policy on SSM becomes defunct, we ask; just How Socially Liberal Is Britain?
To the joy of liberals and the consternation of social conservatives, the Bill allowing Same Sex Marriage passed its last legal obstacle this week. So does this represent a liberal view from the public on social issues, or is Same Sex Marriage a special case?
Of all the parties, UKIP were undoubtedly most vehement in their opposition to the Bill. Indeed, many inside UKIP accredit the party’s stance on the matter with the recent surge in membership, with UKIP now boasting over 30,000 members and rising; all at a time when the other three parties are facing terminal decline. It was no secret that many on the Tory Right decided that Cameron’s backing of SSM was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and made the jump to Nigel Farage’s party of the unashamedly conservative. That being said, there are those in UKIP who support the SSM policy – even after Young Independence had its libertarian wing hollowed out following a string of dismissals and resignations over the last six months. Thomas Booker heads the LGBT Group within UKIP, and has filled the void by commentating on UKIP’s position following the passing of the bill. Booker said:
“As the Party has not made any statement in the light of the vote for same-sex marriage, it is clear to me that the Party’s policy on same-sex marriage (SSM) was mainly a way to express some of the concerns regarding rulings on religious institutions from the ECHR that it (rightly or wrongly) had and to open up the debate as to whether marriage should be a civil institution. A Party that is opposed wholly in principle to the idea of SSM would have, by now, produced a statement arguing that they would campaign to repeal the newly-assented law, and I am delighted to say that UKIP have done no such thing – it seems that they have accepted that the law has passed, and does not see it fit that such a law should be repealed. This would mean their policy was not created out of a “principle” to deny same sex couples from civil equality, but rather to raise some important questions about legal safeguards and the jurisdiction of Parliament that other Parties were not addressing.
“Personally I do not believe UKIP should have had a definitive “yes” or “no” policy on this subject in the first place.
Whilst civil SSM is a civil-rights issue and therefore not something I would consider to be in the remit of a public vote, there was such a variety of opinions as to what any SSM policy should be within UKIP that no policy other than stating “it’s up to individuals whether they agree or disagree with civil-SSM” would have been representative or unifying of the Party membership.
“Now that the UKIP policy on SSM is defunct, it would be wise for the Party to state clearly that they intend not to repeal the law, and in the long run to campaign on the side of civil rights and equality.”
Senior sources within the Party have given no indirection that they would repeal the legislation, but rather would push to ensure that religious institutions would not be forced to carry out ceremonies that were contradictory to the tenants of their faith.
But the Bill has been popular, and will be a feather in the cap of the Cameroons in the Tory Party keen to show that the detoxification medicine is healing the patient in the eyes of the electorate.
And yet, while this bill has been broadly(ish) supported by the public and can be defined as progressive Toryism, on other social issues, the public mood is markedly less modern. Take welfare: where even Labour voters are hardening their views on who should receive state support, and/or how long. Equally, conservative views continue to be held on the perennially thorny issue of immigration; poll after poll shows an overwhelming majority of Britain’s hold deep reservations about the number of migrants entering Britain. And on law and order there was a recent opinion poll where support for the death penalty reached 63%.
So what does this mean for policy formulation? Initially, it’s a notable boon for the Tories and an googly foe the Lib Dems and Labour – on this issue at least, the Tories were ahead of the curve. Cameron has managed to identify an area of social reform that most people tolerate – if not want – which strengthens his hand against those who think this shift to the Centre has gone too far, or is unnatural for the Tories. And on the other hand, Cameron can keep throwing the Tory Right some red meat and show that he’s not soft on all the social issues; for example by backing an insistence that benefits claimants at least try to learn English. For Miliband and Clegg the path is less clear: Miliband can’t claim to lead the Party of the People when his views are so hopelessly out of sync with the Working Class Labour claims to represent. For Clegg, it puts a dent in his argument that the Lib Dems in the Coalition are the only thing keeping the Tories from reverting to their snarling, baby-eating default position. Sure, Cameron relied on the Lib Dems to help the bill through Parliament, but there was no Coalition Agreement clause to even bring it up.
Same Sex Marriage was a gamble by Cameron, and it has paid dividends. He may have lost some of his grass root support over the topic, but it could be argued that he’d actually lost those votes some time ago. By pushing a quietly popular reform through, he’s managed to, somehow, put UKIP on the wring side of history, steal the progressive mantle from the Lib Dems, and paint Labour as being the out of touch party – bravo.