How many cabinet ministers will vote against gay marriage?

Faith minister Sayeeda Warsi, who attends cabinet, is the latest figure to raise concerns over the policy.

Ed Miliband declared earlier this week that the shadow cabinet was "united in supporting same sex marriage" but David Cameron can't say the same of his top team. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, a renowned social conservative, has said that he does not support the move and Welsh Secretary David Jones has indicated that he will vote against it while refusing to say why. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond does not oppose equal marriage as such but has suggested that its introduction should be delayed to allow the government to "focus on the things that matter".

Today it emerged that Sayeeda Warsi, who attends cabinet as minister for faith communities and as a senior Foreign Office minister, also has concerns over the policy. In a letter leaked to the Daily Mail, Warsi asked equalities minister Maria Miller, who is piloting the legislation through parliament, to provide "clarity" on "how the legislation will protect religious freedom". She added: "What legal protection will churches and other places of worship be afforded from challenges if they refuse to undertake same-sex marriage? What legal support will be afforded to churches and others places of worship if they're challenged individually or as an organisation?"

Warsi's letter, sent after Miller's statement to MPs, is significant because it shows that even the "quadruple lock" preventing religious institutions being forced to marry same-sex couples has not been enough to assuage Tory concerns. The lock will ensure that neither religious organisations nor individual ministers will be compelled to hold the weddings on their premises, that no discrimination claims can be brought against them for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, and that religious organisations who do support equal marriage will be required to formally opt-in. In addition, the Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned from hosting same-sex weddings without new primary legislation. Some Tories are pushing for the latter measure to apply to all religious organisations.

Should Conservative cabinet ministers vote against equal marriage, it will not qualify as a rebellion because David Cameron has offered a free vote to his MPs. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have since followed suit after the government agreed to allow religious organisations to hold same-sex marriages.

Faith minister Sayeeda Warsi asked equalities minister Maria Miller to offer greater "clarity" on gay marriage. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.