Tory MPs say they support civil partnerships - but did they vote for them?

Conservative MPs use the existence of civil partnerships as an argument against gay marriage but a significant number voted against them in 2004.

One of the arguments commonly deployed by opponents of equal marriage is that the existence of civil partnerships for same-sex couples means its introduction is unnecessary. Conservative MP Edward Leigh, for instance, has argued: "Same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage?" Former Tory defence minister Gerald Howarth has commented: "some of my best friends are in civil partnerships, which is fine, but I think it would be a step too far to suggest that this is marriage", while Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is expected to vote against equal marriage today, has said that the government is "rightly committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and has already taken action to do so by allowing those religious premises that wish to carry out civil partnerships to do so".

But what none of these three will tell you is that they all voted against civil partnerships when Labour introduced them in 2004. MPs are, of course, free to change their minds and we should praise them when they do. But it's hard not to see their new-found support for civil partnerships as a cynical attempt to prevent the equalisation of marriage. Gay couples might already have a means of formalising their relationships but they wouldn't if Paterson, Leigh and Howarth had had their way in 2004. So, for the record, here are the 38 Conservative MPs who voted against civil partnerships, including two serving cabinet ministers (Paterson and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin) and the two Labour MPs who did. Seventeen have since resigned or lost their seats.

Conservative MPs who voted against civil partnerships

David Amess (Southend West)

James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire)

Paul Beresford (Mole Valley)

Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire. Stood down in 2010)

Quentin Davis (Grantham and Stamford. Defected to Labour in 2007 and stood down in 2010)

Adrian Flook (Taunton. Stood down in 2010)

Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford)

Roger Gale (North Thanet)

John Gummer (Suffolk Coastal. Stood down in 2010)

Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath. Stood down in 2005)

John Hayes (Current energy minister and MP for South Holland the Deepings)

Mark Hoban (Current employment minister and MP for Fareham)

Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Brian Mawhinney (North West Cambridgeshire. Stood down in 2005)

Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Patrick McLoughlin (Current Transport Secretary and MP for Derbyshire Dales)

Owen Paterson (Current Environment Secretary and MP for North Shropshire)

Andrew Robathan (Current armed forces minister and MP for South Leicestershire)

Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire. Stood down in 2010)

Bob Spink (Castle Point. Defected to UKIP in 2008 and lost his seat in 2010)

Desmond Swayne (New Forest West)

John Taylor (Solihull. Lost his seat in 2005)

Michael Trend (Windsor. Stood down in 2005)

Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne. Lost his seat in 2010)

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald. Stood down in 2010)

John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood. Stood down in 2005)

David Wilshire (Spelthorne. Stood down in 2010)

Ann Winterton (Congleton. Stood down in 2010)

Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield. Stood down in 2010)

Labour MPs who voted against civil partnerships

Denzil Davies (Llanelli. Stood down in 2005)

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who opposes gay marriage, voted against civil partnerships in 2004. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.