David Cameron told Conservative MPs in the aftermath of the disastrous Tory Commons split over the Same-Sex Marriage Bill that the row would be forgotten by 2015. The Prime Minister had a point, in that very few people will allow gay marriage to decide their vote in two years' time. But it making it, he missed a bigger one. For many older voters, the same sex marriage bill is one part of a bigger picture, like a collage on a teenager's wall – together with such other items as wind farms, Abu Qatada, Eton, overseas aid, rip-off utlities and MPs' expenses. It is a blow to their deepest values – or prejudices, if you prefer.
The bill certainly wasn't forgotten when voters went to the polls last week – Conservative MPs I've spoken to say it was a factor on the doorstep – and the Prime Minister will be lucky if it is in two year's time. Gerald Howarth has called for the bill to be withdrawn, and given the bill's lack of legitimacy I agree with him. Indeed, my response to it has been to cut the money I give to the party this year. But I must be objective, and add that, in narrow political terms, withdrawing the bill would do Cameron no political good. The gesture would simply leave him looking weak. The Ministers and MPs who backed it only because he did would rage at marching loyally towards the sound of gunfire…only to find on looking round that their commanding officers had deserted the field
Instead, I would make it clear before and during tomorrow's Queen's Speech that George Osborne will, as Downing Street indicated to me recently, bring in transferable tax allowances at the earlies possible opportunity. (Cameron's reminder that "I am First Lord of the Treasury" was a dig at his Chancellor's resistance to the measure.) Transferable allowances have three big pluses. First, they recognise marriage in the tax system. Second, they would help to reverse the bias against one-earner couples in the Coalition's childcare plans. Finally, their introduction is promised in the Coalition Agreement. No-one could fairly claim that Cameron was making some new concession. And the move would sit neatly alongside the plans to help women and carers that we ready this morning will be annnounced in the Queen's Speech