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
Show Hide image

The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder