Tories Fiddling, Labour Unravelling

Article excerpt

Letter from London

The radio is on while I write this. It's 'Desert Island Discs', an interview interspersed with the eight records that the guest would like to have if stranded on a desert island with a gramophone. Today's guest is the leader of the opposition, lain Duncan Smith (IDS for short).

He's been having a rough time. Partly this is because of divisions in the party; partly it's his own fault. The two came together last month when Parliament was debating legislation to let unmarried couples and same-- sex couples adopt children. Like most of us, IDS believes that a stable, traditional family is the best environment in which to raise children. Therefore, he decided to make a stand against adoption by same-sex couples.

Never mind that the law already allows adoption by single people, whether gay or not. Never mind that the proper comparison is not between adoption by a married couple and adoption by a same-sex couple, but between adoption and the 'care' provided by the social services, a comparison which adoption wins hands down. Never mind that issues such as adoption and divorce are normally decided on conscience votes and not on party lines.

Never mind, even, the need for the party to be more liberal on social issues if it is to get back in touch with the average voter. IDS sent out a 'three-line whip' - an instruction to all Conservative MPs to turn up and vote the party line regardless of their personal opinions, or else. Except that this was a Clayton's whip: it said that MPs who didn't like it could stay away and it wouldn't be held against them.

Things get worse. IDS is in a very weak position when it comes to demanding that MPs put loyalty before conscience. As a new MP back in 1992 he voted many times against his own government's European legislation. On the night of the adoption vote, several Conservative MPs voted for the new law-including two of IDS's undeclared rivals for the leadership. They said it was a matter of conscience, but the next day IDS claimed it wasn't and accused them of disloyalty. The day after, he had to apologize.

Result: confusion and mistrust all round. After more than a year of IDS the Tories are no more credible a government-in-waiting than they were under his predecessor William Hague. …