Cameron Penny is a financial services lobbyist, East End resident and member of the Conservative Party for over a decade. He was a senior officer of the UK’s largest university-based Conservative Association and stood as a local council candidate for the party. Follow Cameron on Twitter.
The Defence Secretary's blunt analysis of the UK's current situation is partly correct. Nearly four years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing financial crisis that rocked world markets, sending government deficits spiralling, depressing consumer growth and seeding the current Eurozone crisis, the UK is stuck. We face numerous challenges from tackling the deficit, kickstarting infrastructure projects, dealing with an acute housing shortage, educating our workforce for future opportunities and arguably the most pressing for our medium-term future; what do to about a "lost generation" of long-term unemployed skilled and unskilled young people.
Yet as governments across the Western world know, there are no immediate fixes to these. The Prime Minister is undoubtedly aware of this too. The major achievements of the first two years of the Coalition have been to fix long-term problems with our welfare and healthcare systems. The economic and cultural battle to undo decades of the entitlement-era where too many people were stuck, by choice or by circumstance, on the taxpayer-funded welfare carousel is going to be a long and hard one. Passing the legislation was in many respects the easier task. Getting work programme providers to deliver on the ground for the unemployed whilst consortia of GPs work out how to maximise their resources to the benefit of patients is harder.
With all these problems and more to come, not least convincing a sceptical press and public that last week's slightly tepid Queen's Speech will create "the conditions for growth", why all this fuss about gay marriage? Whether Nadine Dorries or Philip Hammond, our politicians almost fall over themselves to tell everyone that it's a non-issue for voters. Which begs the question, if it's such a non-issue why does anyone care very much about it?
The truth is that the Conservative party has always, like right-aligned parties everywhere, attracted those who are small c and big C members. Which brings us back to David Cameron's 2011 conference speech where he told the assembled that:
"I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative."
Tim Loughton, Philip Hammond and Nadine Dorries don't get this. That much is true. Centre-right parties have long missed a trick when it comes to this issue. Which is particularly surprising given the UK's unrelenting secularism. The partnership of two people is the bedrock of our society. These partnerships form family units, which form our local communities which form our villages, towns and cities. They are a public announcement to the world at large of love and commitment, which might be slightly naive given our divorce rates.
Importantly they give people a stake in society. Much like owning rather than renting, these relationships are less brittle, less impermanent and carefree. They place a responsibility on those within them, particularly when children are involved. So when Philip Hammond says that gay marriage shouldn't be a priority it's nothing more than a fig-leaf for barely concealed small-c bigotry. It's as if the riots of last year taught some in the Conservative Party nothing about the chasm of abject apathy and irresponsibility in some parts of the country. So when the Prime Minister says he's for it because, not in spite, of being a Conservative he should be supported by those around the Cabinet table who share with him a desire for a state that enables everyone to play a full part in society enjoying equal freedoms and cultural status – regardless of their sexuality.
Fundamentally, though if Hammond, Loughton and Dorries were true Conservatives they'd do the proper thing and push for the state to remove itself, once and for all, from the business of marriage altogether, requiring everyone to enter into a standard legal contract, and freeing churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, kirks and meeting houses to minister to their congregations as they see fit. Now that's a low-priority change to the law that we should all be able to unite behind!