NORTHERN Ireland’s Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, is one of the few people in David Cameron’s Government who Lord Tebbit says are the voices of traditional Tory opinion.
Citing the Government’s proposals for gay marriage – which Mr Paterson publicly opposed, the first Cabinet minister to do so – Lord Tebbit says that it is crucial for traditional Conservatives to see their position articulated.
“I think Owen is to some extent now in a department which is a bit isolated and out of the mainstream essentially because of the nature of the devolved government so he’s not in one of the key departments,” says Lord Tebbit.
“But I think he and one or two others — Duncan Smith for example — are the voices of more traditional Conservative approaches and above all more traditional Conservative priorities ... I can honestly say that no one has come up to me and said: ‘The priority is reform of the House of Lords and gay marriage.’”
What does Lord Tebbit think about a Conservative Prime Minister attempting to legislate for gay marriage despite grassroots Tory unease?
“What? I mean, steady on chaps. Let’s get a grip on reality. I think that that springs partly from Coalition games that if you give us reform of the House of Lords which makes sure that there’s always a blocking minority of Liberals in the electoral system which we shall devise, we will give you the re-drawing of the constituency boundaries. And if you don’t, we won’t.
“I don’t think I would have taken on gay marriage – it’s not perhaps the most important thing in the world. But perhaps that’s the point, particularly when we have civil partnerships.
“There is a case for doing something about civil partnerships because it is extremely inequitable that two sisters who have devoted their lives to looking after a parent should be prohibited from entering into a partnership which would be to their economic advantage, whereas two women otherwise can do so.
“I think in any case it raises – and that might be a good thing out of it all – the question of the interests of children and why there isn’t more discussion about whether it’s in the best interests of children that they should be brought up in civil partnerships or so-called gay marriage and I think too little attention has been paid to that.
“When I get extremely irritated about it, I say: There is no inequality. Any male can marry, barring the restrictions on consanguinity, any female. Any female can marry any male. I’m terribly sorry sir, you want to do something that I don’t wish to do. That’s your problem, not my problem.
“In terms of practical politics, I don’t think I would have taken that on particularly because it was so contentious. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of it, it is highly contentious within one’s party and I will be intrigued to see how the Labour Party tackles it ... I’d put a fiver on [former Labour minister] Kate Hoey not [supporting gay marriage].”
He speaks highly of the Ulster-born Ms Hoey, citing her and John Cruddas as examples of Labour politicians who share “common ground” with Conservatives in key areas such as tackling abuse of welfare.