David Cameron faces battles with his own Tory lawmakers over plans to legalize gay marriage and with his coalition partner, Nick Clegg, over changes to child care designed to cut costs for working parents.
The U.K. House of Commons will again debate gay marriage on May 20. The prime minister only won a preliminary vote on Feb. 5 by relying on the support of his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the Labour opposition, as 139 Tories rebelled.
After local-election losses last week to the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns against immigration and the European Union, both traditional Tory concerns, some of Cameron’s members of Parliament are anxious not to alienate their core support further.
“Cameron faces three problems on the gay-marriage vote from MPs on his own side,” Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Nottingham University, said in a telephone interview. “Some are just implacably opposed on principle. Second, because the vote will pass anyway with the other parties’ support, it is a cost-free way to rebel. The third is that as an MP, even if you are not particularly opposed to gay marriage, the activists in your constituency are and they are the ones who will deliver your leaflets in 2015,” when the next general election is held.
Cameron and Clegg, who leads the Liberal Democrats, announced measures yesterday for the next legislative session designed to minimize rebellions, including toughening immigration law and boosting consumer rights. Even so, Clegg today questioned a policy designed to appeal to working parents and women voters Cameron knows he must attract to win in 2015.
Tory Child-Care Minister Liz Truss has suggested letting adults look after four babies under 24 months of age rather than three, as now, and six two-year-olds rather than the current four. A spokesman for Clegg, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said by telephone that the deputy premier remains to be persuaded that’s the right move.
“The debate is all about can you raise quality and quantity at the same time,” Clegg told LBC radio. “Is there a link between increasing the number of toddlers that an adult is looking after and raising the qualifications of that adult?”
Clegg also questioned a Tory pledge to get immigration down to the “tens of thousands,” saying the government should be “careful about the numbers game.”
“There is a more public nature to these blocks to policy then there have been over the last three years,” Cowley said. “The Tory right hate being in coalition and the Lib Dems are desperate to show difference from the Tories, and Cameron is squeezed in the middle.”
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