Labour abandons support for gay marriage "wrecking" amendment

The party tables its own rival amendment to establish a consultation on introducing civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.

After ministers warned that the amendment to the gay marriage bill establishing civil partnerships for heterosexual couples could "wreck" the legislation, Labour has opted not to support the amendment and instead table its own. 

The Labour amendment, as outlined by Yvette Cooper on The World At One, would establish "an immediate consultation on opposite sex civil partnerships", which, she said, could begin even before the bill has completed its parliamentary passage. Cooper went on to confirm that, while this is a free vote, she was recommending that MPs do not support the amendment tabled by former Tory minister Tim Loughton, which would introduce  heterosexual civil partnerships. This was widely viewed by ministers as an attempt to "wreck" the bill, not least because Loughton and the other Tory MPs supporting it are opponents of gay marriage. Government sources had warned that it could delay the introduction of equal marriage until after the general election.

Labour had also suggested that the amendment could be used by the government as a convenient excuse to abandon the bill, an option ministers insisted they were not considering. But by opposing the Loughton amendment, Cooper said, Labour was ensuring that neither the government nor MPs could "wreck" the legislation.

With Labour and most Lib Dem MPs now planning either to abstain or vote against the amendment, any chance there was of it passing has ended. 

Update: A Labour source has told The Staggers that Labour will abstain from voting on the Loughton amendment, meaning that its fate will likely depend on the Lib Dems (Cameron and other Tory supporters of gay marriage will vote against it).

Earlier today, Nick Clegg suggested that he would be prepared to vote against the amendment if necessary to save the bill. He said: "I don't want anything to interfere with the central purpose of this legislation ... The bottom line is that I will do whatever I judge is best to safeguard the bill and to make sure that it does not become hijacked by those whose ulterior motive is actually to discredit or to derail the legislation."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper speaks at last year's Labour conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.