There have been a lot of complaints from the pro-equal marriage lobby that there should have been a three line whip on the Conservatives to herd them through the ‘Ayes’ lobby. Last night’s result demonstrated exactly why David Cameron could not apply a whip if he wanted this legislation to go through.
There were a majority of Conservative MP’s in the ‘Noes’ lobby, and that means that there would have been a majority for the Tory whip to be against the legislation had it been applied. That would have killed the bill as the combined Lib Dem and Labour votes would have been insufficient alone to defeat a Conservative nay (NB. With marriage being devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland the Scots Nats would not have voted).
The other myth that needs busting is the one that suggests that Labour or the Liberal Democrats could have carried the vote better were they the majority Government. 20% of Labour MPs and 25% of Lib Dem MP’s failed to vote in favour, and this means that Labour would have needed a 57 seat majority, and the Lib Dems an 81 seat majority to win the vote (a Lib-Lab coalition could not have delivered sufficient votes as there would not have been sufficient Lib Dems to take the vote to that majority).
The simple truth of the matter then, is that the staggering 225 majority in favour of Equal Marriage could only be achieved by a free vote in the house. No single party, or indeed combination of parties, could have delivered that vote alone in the current political climate.