Philip Hammond taken to task over anti-gay rights record

The Defence Secretary says civil partnerships make the introduction of equal marriage unnecessary, but he didn't vote for them in 2004.

Philip Hammond was one of four cabinet ministers not to vote in favour of gay marriage (he abstained along with Attorney General Dominic Grieve; Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Welsh Secretary David Jones voted against) and the Defence Secretary did nothing to hide his opposition to the policy on last night's Question Time. He said:

 

This change does redefine marriage. For millions and millions of people who are married, the meaning of marriage changes.

There is a real sense of anger among many people who are married that any government thinks it has the ability to change the definition of an institution like marriage.

Hammond went on to argue that the introduction of civil partnerships had already addressed the "very real disadvantage" that gay couples faced. "There was no huge demand for this [gay marriage] and we didn't need to spend a lot of Parliamentary time and upset vast numbers of people in order to do this."

The Defence Secretary's line -  that the existence of civil partnerships means the introduction of equal marriage is unnecessary - is one often used by Conservative MPs. But as Labour's Chris Byrant pointed out, what Hammond is less keen for the public to know is that he wasn't in favour of them at the time the legislation was passed in 2004 (he repeatedly abstained). Worse, he voted against:

-The equalisation of the age of consent.

-The repeal of Section 28.

-Allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

-The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which removed the requirement for a father and a mother to be considered when taking account of the welfare of a child who may be born as a result of fertility treatment. Instead, the law stipulated the need for "supportive parenting".

Hammond isn't the first opponent of gay marriage to grandstand as a supporter of equality. 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 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.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stands in front of a Rapier System ground-to-air missile launcher during a visit to RAF Waddington near Lincoln. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.