Show Hide image

Leader: Gay marriage and the clash of fundamental values

The value of marriage would be increased, not diminished, through its extension to same-sex couples.

Contrary to reports, gay marriage is one policy on which David Cameron has not changed course. There was never any intention to include legis­lation in the Queen’s Speech last month, which pre-dated the end of the government’s consul­tation. Now, the consultation has ended and the coalition has pledged to legislate before 2015.

There are strong political reasons for Mr Cameron’s commitment to the policy. He is determined for his government to be remembered for more than austerity and has also argued persuasively that same-sex marriage can be reconciled with Conservative philosophy. If marriage, as Conservatives believe, is the foundation of a successful society, then it should surely be offered to the greatest number of people possible. Mr Cameron says he doesn’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative but because he is one.

On this issue, the Prime Minister is right. The value of marriage would be increased, not diminished, through its extension to same-sex couples. Some may question whether the introduction of gay marriage is necessary when the Civil Partnership Act 2004 already allows couples access to almost all of the legal rights enjoyed by heterosexuals. Yet this two-tier system implicitly condones the belief that same-sex relationships are inferior to others. Gay couples are rightly aggrieved that they are unable legally to refer to themselves as “married”. Nor is the distinction merely a semantic one: while a civil marriage is formed when the couple exchange spoken words, a civil partnership is, rather less romantically, formed when the second civil partner signs the register.

Long before its consultation began, the government indicated that no religious organisation would be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. The principle of religious freedom demands as much. Indeed, it went further by ruling that those religious groups that wish to officiate gay marriages, such as Reform Jews and Quakers, would be barred from doing so, even though they can now legally host civil part­nerships. This has not prevented a series of absurd responses from senior clerics. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has compared the introduction of gay marriage to the legalisation of slavery. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has accused Mr Cameron of behaving like a “dictator”. Now, in its formal submission to the government’s consultation, the Church of England has reaffirmed its opposition to gay marriage on the basis that it would “alter the intrinsic nature of a marriage as the union of a man and woman, as enshrined in human institutions through history”. For a church that was founded in opposition to the belief that a sacramental marriage could never be dissolved, it is a reactionary stance.

A greater challenge for liberals is the Church’s assertion that European human rights law could force it to hold gay marriages, with some even raising the spectre of disestablishment. Such a ruling would require the government to adjudicate between the competing priorities of religious freedom and equality. The Home Office’s lawyers insist that the law favours the former, while independent observers suggest that, at most, religious organisations would be permitted to conduct gay marriages voluntarily. The suspicion arises that the Church’s claims are part of a desperate rearguard action, aimed at preventing same-sex marriage ever reaching the statute book. Many in Mr Cameron’s party will prove similarly obstructive but the Prime Minister should use the full weight of his office to override their dissent.

When the Civil Partnership Act was passed, it was said that no single law had done more to promote human happiness. In the same spirit, gay couples should be granted full equality.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Drones: video game warfare

Show Hide image

Why Theresa May is wrong about immigration

The inconvenient truth: migration helps Britain.

Immigration is a disaster. Well, Theresa May says so, anyway.

May’s speech to the Conservative conference is straight out of the Ukip playbook – which is rather curious, given that she has held the post of Home Secretary for five years, and is the longest-serving holder of the office for half a century. It is crass and expedient tub-thumping (as James Kirkup has brilliantly exposed). And what May is saying is not even true. These are saloon-bar claims, and it is striking that she should unleash them on the Conservative party conference.

“When immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society,” May says. Yet, whatever she might say, racism is on the decline. The BNP’s vote in the general election collapsed from 563,000 in 2010 to just 1,667 in 2015. Research by Rob Ford has revealed that the nation is becoming far more tolerant to marriage between races: while almost half of those born before 1950 oppose marriage between black and white people, only 14 per cent of those born since 1980 do. And between 2011 and 2014 (when the figure was last measured), the British Social Attitudes Survey reported a decrease in self-reported racial prejudice, from 38 to 30 per cent.

May also said: “at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero.” This is another claim that does not stand up. An OECD study two years ago found that the net contribution of immigrants is worth over £7bn per year to UK PLC: money that would otherwise have to be found through higher taxes, lower spending or more borrowing.

May also asserted that “We know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.” This ignores the evidence of her own department, who have found “relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.” An LSE study, too, has found “no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services.”

The inconvenient truth is that rising net migration is both proof of, and a reason why, the UK economy is doing well. As immigration has increased, so has growth; employment has risen, including for Britons. This is no coincidence.

To win the “global race”, a country needs to attract skilled immigrants who work hard and put in more than they take out. That is exactly what the UK is doing: net migration has just risen to 330,000, a new record. As a whole these migrants “are better educated and younger than their UK-born counterparts”, as an LSE study has found. In the UK today there is a simple rule: where immigration is highest, growth is strongest. The East Coast and Cornwall suffer from a lack of migration, while almost 40 per cent of a immigrants live in the thriving capital.

Lower immigration would make the UK a less dynamic economy. Firms in London enjoy a “diversity bonus”: those with an ethnically diverse management are more likely to introduce new product innovations, and are better-able to reach international markets, a paper by Max Nathan and Neil Lee has found.

Puling up the drawbridge on immigration would have catastrophic consequences for UK PLC. The OBR have found that with zero net-migration, public sector net debt as a share of GDP could rise to 145 per cent by 2062/63; with high net-migration, it would fall to 73 per cent.

So May should be celebrating that the UK is such an attractive place to live, and how immigration has contributed to its success. By doing the opposite, she not only shows a lack of political leadership, but is also stoking up trouble for the Prime Minister – and her leadership rival George Osborne – during the EU referendum.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.