A defining moment: the gay marriage vote. Plus: Ann Barnes unscathed by crime panel

A defining moment: the gay marriage vote. Plus: Ann Barnes unscathed by crime panel

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, February 6 2013

It was definitely historic. And it was definitely momentous. But the vote on the gay marriage Bill has ripples beyond the issue itself - chiefly, where it leaves David Cameron and the the Conservative party.

For the Prime Minister, the vote represented an important step forward for the country.

More than that, he sees it as an important step forward for his party, a further example of its abilty to modernise and move with the times. Not only that but it is a visible commitment to equality and social reform for a party that has often suffered from its image as one resistant to changing mores in society.

To his detractors, pushing through with a Bill that was not part of the coalition programme and was seen as an attack on the party's traditional values was a mistake. Among the many MPs from his party who opposed gay marriage were nine from Kent, who articulated their opposition in some interesting, not to say controversial ways.

The risk to the Conservatives is that this is an issue which has the potential to be as divisive as Europe, although in this case it pitches traditionalists against modernisers rather than Euro-sceptics against Euro-enthusiasts. In Kent, it was interesting to see that those opposed were not just some of the county's elder stateseman but a number elected at the last election.

At the same time, those in favour included some of the county's youngest MPs - as well as those MPs with jobs in government.  Speaking to MPs on both sides of the argument, one thing struck me. Those against often remarked  that they were responding to a groundswell of opposition among constituents as well as their own principles; those in favour said they had had relatively little correspondence on the matter and couldn't really see what the fuss was about.

The reality is probably somewhere in between. David Cameron has had a bruising encounter with some in his party but it is not one which will necessarily do him long term damage. Yes, his party is nursing a few sores and there are bound to be a few scraps along the way.

But he will take the view that backing gay marriage will help position the party in the all important centre ground.Which is generally where elections are won and lost.

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Police commissioner Ann Barnes had her first appearance before the new Kent and Medway Crime Panel this week. This is the cross-party committee that has the job of holding the commissioner to account for her decisions and actions, so it is quite important as a public watchdog.

It was not exactly gladitorial or adverserial and it is not surprising, given that It was the commissioner's first appearance - and the committee's first real go at asking her questions. It had the feeling of one of those "friendly" cricket matches Test teams have before the real action gets underway when both sides are feeling their way into form.

There was some gentle pressing of the commissioner's plans for 60 new PCSOs and how she could justify the increased police precept of 2% to pay for it but the questioning was generally fairly light in tone, not least because there seemed general unanimity that the extra posts were a good thing. 

Mrs Barnes dealt pretty deftly with most things thrown at her and used her appearance to "announce" plans to recruit a new youth police commissioner, a bit of canny PR. She was in characteristically forthright mode when she was challenged over her plans for "mobile" police stations. Told the plans were "woolly" she bridled: "I don't do woolly." Neither does she do "gobbledegook." The committee may need to toughen up a bit over time.

There was one issue that might have got an airing but was singularly ignored and that was the commissioner's decision to give jobs to two of her key election campaign lieutenants to her team. I gather there was some discussion before the meeting among Tory members about whether to raise the subject but they decided against - feeling that the decision was a fait accompli and there was not much to be gained at this stage. 

Sources report that the feeling was that there will be further opportunities down the line. It's known as keeping your powder dry.

 

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Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis

News, views, gossip and analysis on Kent's political scene, from County Hall to Westminster.

Welcome to my blog. As KM Group's political editor, I keep an eye on the county's corridors of power.

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