Labour comes to Cameron's rescue as gay marriage wrecking amendment is defeated

Ed Miliband advised Labour MPs to vote against the amendment, rather than abstain, after Tory whips warned they could be defeated.

MPs have just voted to reject Tory MP Tim Loughton's wrecking amendment to the gay marriage bill by 375 votes to 70. The amendment would have introduced civil partnerships for opposite sex couples, but while many support this change in principle, MPs from all parties warned that it could delay the introduction of equal marriage (Loughton is an opponent of the bill, which is revealing of his true motives). Instead, they voted in favour of a Labour amendment to establish an immediate consultation on the issue, an improved version of the government's earlier pledge to hold a review in five years' time. 

Labour originally planned to abstain from voting on the Loughton amendment but ended up voting against it after Conservative whips warned that they were in danger of losing the vote.

Supporters of gay marriage have responded by praising Labour for opting not to play politics and declining an easy opportunity to embarrass David Cameron. Tim Montgomerie tweeted: "Hats off to Labour tonight. They've seen through @timloughton's wrecking amendment and put the gay marriage reform before politics." But, unsurprisingly, Tory opponents of gay marriage are less pleased with the outcome. Conservative MP Stewart Jackson has denounced equalities minister Maria Miller for "defending the indefensible grubby deal with Labour to ram bill through."

Here's a full list of the 70 MPs who voted for the Loughton amendment, notably including Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes. It looks as if Green MP Caroline Lucas, having earlier supported the amendment and derided claims that it would "wreck" the bill, ultimately chose not to vote for it.

Four of the Conservative MPs who voted for the amendment - Christopher Chope, Roger Gale, Anne McIntosh, Andrew Robathan - voted against the introduction of civil partnerships for same sex couples in 2004. While it's possible that they have genuinely changed their minds on this issue, it is more likely evidence that the primary motive of many of those who supported the amendment was to derail the introduction of gay marriage. As I noted earlier, the irony is that Tory MPs oppose gay marriage, which would not undermine the institution of marriage, but support heterosexual civil partnerships, which certainly would.

Conservative: 56

Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Peter Aldous (Waveney), Steven Baker (Wycombe), Andrew Bingham (High Peak), Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West), Andrew Bridgen (Leicestershire North West), Steve Brine (Winchester), Robert Buckland (Swindon South), Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase), Christopher Chope (Christchurch), Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswolds, The), David Davies (Monmouth), Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire), Philip Davies (Shipley), Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North), Roger Gale (Thanet North), Cheryl Gillan (Chesham & Amersham), James Gray (Wiltshire North), Charles Hendry (Wealden), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), Gareth Johnson (Dartford), Marcus Jones (Nuneaton), Chris Kelly (Dudley South), Pauline Latham (Derbyshire Mid), Andrea Leadsom (Northamptonshire South), Phillip Lee (Bracknell), Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater & Somerset West), Tim Loughton (Worthing East & Shoreham), Karen Lumley (Redditch), Karl McCartney (Lincoln), Anne McIntosh (Thirsk & Malton), Esther McVey (Wirral West), Anne Main (St Albans), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North & Cleveleys), Nigel Mills (Amber Valley), David Morris (Morecambe & Lunesdale), David Nuttall (Bury North), Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury), Matthew Offord (Hendon), Chris Pincher (Tamworth), John Redwood (Wokingham), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Somerset North East), Andrew Robathan (Leicestershire South), Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet & Rothwell), Henry Smith (Crawley), Caroline Spelman (Meriden), Bob Stewart (Beckenham), Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes), Ben Wallace (Wyre & Preston North), Robert Walter (Dorset North), Heather Wheeler (Derbyshire South), Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley), John Whittingdale (Maldon), Bill Wiggin (Herefordshire North), Gavin Williamson (Staffordshire South)

Labour: 8

Joe Benton (Bootle), Rosie Cooper (Lancashire West), David Crausby (Bolton North East), Jim Dobbin (Heywood & Middleton), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Mary Glindon (Tyneside North), Paul Murphy (Torfaen), Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East).

Liberal Democrats: 3

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Simon Hughes (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West).

SDLP: 3

Mark Durkan (Foyle), Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South), Margaret Ritchie (Down South)

 

David Cameron and Ed Miliband walk through the Members' Lobby to listen to the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on May 8, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Does it matter that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group?

Well yes, a little.

“#WESTMINSTERBUBBLE JOURNOS CHAT ON #WHATSAPP. NOW THAT’S INTERESTING,” writes the alt-left site Skwawkbox.

Its story refers to the fact that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group chat. The site finds this sinister, suggesting the chat could be used to “swap info, co-ordinate stories and narratives”:

“It’s a technology that worries Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in case terrorists use it – but its use by the Establishment for 1984-style message co-ordination would worry many people just as much.”

Skwawkbox’s shock was mocked by lobby journalists and spinners:


Your mole, who has sniffed around the lobby in its day, also finds the suggestion of journalists using the app for terrorist-style collusion a little hard to swallow. Like every other industry, journos are using WhatsApp because it’s the latest easy technology to have group chats on – and it’s less risky than bitching and whining in a Twitter DM thread, or on email, which your employers can access.

But my fellow moles in the Skwawkbox burrow have hit on something, even if they’ve hyped it up with the language of conspiracy. There is a problem with the way lobby journalists of different publications decide what the top lines of stories are every day, having been to the same briefings, and had the same chats.

It’s not that there’s a secret shady agreement to take a particular line about a certain party or individual – it’s that working together in such an environment fosters groupthink. They ask questions of government and opposition spokespeople as a group, they dismiss their responses as a group, and they decide the real story as a group.

As your mole’s former colleague Rafael Behr wrote in 2012:

“At the end [of a briefing], the assembled hacks feel they have established some underlying truth about what really happened, which, in the arch idiom of the trade, is generally agreed to have been revealed in what wasn’t said.”

Plus, filing a different story to what all your fellow reporters at rival papers have written could get you in trouble with your editor. The columnist David Aaronovitch wrote a piece in 2002, entitled “The lobby system poisons political journalism”, arguing that rather than pursuing new stories, often this ends up with lobby journalists repeating the same line:

“They display a "rush to story", in which they create between them an orthodoxy about a story – which then becomes impossible to dislodge.”

This tendency for stories to become stifled even led to the Independent and others boycotting the lobby in the Eighties, he notes.

Of course, colleagues in all industries have always communicated for work, social and organisational reasons in some way, and using WhatsApp is no different. But while Skwawkbox’s “revelation” might seem laughable to insiders, most people don’t know how political journalism works behind-the-scenes. It touches on a truth about how Westminster journalists operate – even if it’s wrong about their motive.

I'm a mole, innit.