CONSERVATIVE activists have attacked David Cameron’s support for gay marriage, claiming it made winning the next general election “virtually impossible”.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, more than 30 present and former local party chairmen warned that Mr Cameron’s backing for a change in the law had led to voters switching their support to the UK Independence Party (Ukip).
They wrote that many of the lost supporters would not contemplate returning to the Tory fold unless legislation for gay marriages was abandoned “or the party leadership changed”.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill returns to the Commons today for two days of debate, with many Tories expected to oppose it on a free vote.
The letter to Mr Cameron was organised by the Grassroots Conservative group, whose chairman, Bob Woollard, said: “The Prime Minister’s bizarre drive to ram this legislation through parliament, without any democratic mandate and without the support of party members, has been a disaster, and has driven thousands of voters to Ukip.
“The marriage-based family is at the heart of conservatism. This dilution and unravelling of marriage has demotivated many ordinary, loyal Conservative Party members and has undermined their years of hard work for something they believed in. It makes winning the next election virtually impossible.”
The letter says Mr Cameron’s “refusal to listen to reason and grassroots opinion is causing many previously loyal Conservatives to leave the party; some are lost forever and many will not contemplate re-joining unless the bill is abandoned or the party leadership changed”.
It claims the legislation for same-sex unions had also undermined work to win support in ethnic minority groups “who cannot comprehend how a Conservative Prime Minister can be promoting a bill that will redefine marriage in a way which is contrary to their religious and cultural beliefs and practices”.
Hundreds of Muslim leaders have also attacked the gay marriage plans in an open letter to Mr Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.
Tory former minister Nick Herbert said the move to support gay marriages reflected a change in society and would not do any harm. He said “This isn’t a bill that will harm anyone; nobody has to enter a gay marriage, no church will be forced to conduct a gay marriage, because the protections are there. The Church of England has said it’s happy with the protections that have been given.”
Tory party vice-chairman Bob Neill acknowledged there were “different views” within the party on the issue, but said there was “respect” on both sides.
A separate letter signed by more than 100 party activists called on Tory MPs to back the gay marriage legislation and thanked the Prime Minister “for making equality possible”.
In a separate row, Danny Alexander has attacked Tory demands for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union as “totally wrong”.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s intervention came as a poll showed backing for Scottish independence could increase if voters thought the UK was likely to pull out of the EU.
Former foreign secretary Lord Howe warned that Mr Cameron was losing control of his party as its “long nervous breakdown” over Europe continued.
Lord Lawson, another former chancellor, called on the UK to leave the EU, saying any gains “would substantially outweigh the costs”.
But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted the Tory party was “absolutely united” on the issue of Europe and Lord Howe’s views did not “represent the reality” of the situation.
Tories defend party boss over ‘swivel-eyed loons’ allegation
The Conservative leadership has rallied around party co-chairman Lord Feldman in the row over reports an ally of Prime Minister David Cameron called grassroots activists “swivel-eyed loons”.
Lord Feldman, who was not named in reports, was forced to strenuously deny making the comments after internet speculation linked him to the alleged remarks.
Tory vice-chairman Bob Neill stepped up the war of words between Conservative Central Office and the press, attacking what he called “slipshod” reporting.
The row came as Tory high command was also facing opposition to gay marriage legislation for England and fresh criticism over Europe. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he did not believe the reported “loon” comments and added: “The person who is alleged to have said that has denied it, and I know the individual and I trust him – he’s a man of great honour.”
Mr Neill said “I think we have to be very, very wary of this, I think, rather slipshod bit of journalism.”
Mr Neill said he had never heard Lord Feldman “or anyone in central office or in Downing Street say anything of that kind”.
But Tory MP Brian Binley said if the remarks were made by someone in Mr Cameron’s inner circle it would not be a surprise because the leadership has a “disdainful” view of the party’s volunteers.
Cameron ‘could try to lead without Lib Dems’
DAVID Cameron has hinted that he could attempt to govern without the Liberal Democrats if disputes within the coalition made it impossible to continue.
The Prime Minister said that if difficulties between his Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems meant the government could not get things done “we’d have to face the new circumstances in whatever way we should”.
Mr Cameron said: “The coalition has its frustrations – there’s no doubt about it – and we have disagreements.
“Sometimes those disagreements mean you can’t take actions in the areas you want to, but when I stand back and look at the coalition, I still think what’s remarkable is how radical we have been in making really important changes in our country. I’m here to deliver good government and we’ve still got important work to do.
“What matters to me, though, is can we get things done? Can we improve the state of the country? Can we fulfil our manifesto? The best way to do that is to continue with the coalition, but if that wasn’t the case then we’d have to face the new circumstances in whatever way we should.”
Lib Dem Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander said: “Liberal Democrats will ensure that this government will be strong and stable enough to be able to take the difficult decisions in the years to come no matter what happens.”