News from Grassroots conservatives

Grassroots Conservatives to the PM on Conscience Clauses

15 Oct 2014

The Rt Hon David Cameron PC, MP.,

Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury,

10 Downing Street,

London SW1A 2AA

October 13 2014

Dear Prime Minister

Conscience Clauses,

I am continuing to write to you in order to keep you abreast of feeling and opinion among ordinary Grassroots Conservatives, which is vital information as you prepare for the 2015 election manifesto and campaign.

The Clacton and Heywood & Middleton results are a sharp wake up call on a whole number of counts. A by-election strategy of bypassing / ignoring local Associations, with imported activists, (then abandoned), and gimmicks while insulting members has not worked. If this approach is not reversed then we fear Rochester will yield similar results. We need a Party Chairman elected by the membership who will motivate and energise them. We need local Associations working together, alongside and supplemented by new blood and new election techniques. The Associations must not be alienated by CCHQ or allowed to die.

Further, polls show that (alongside immigration) one of the most common grievances amongst party members who have switched support to UKIP is your insistence on redefining marriage, a policy that did not feature in the manifesto and was not balanced by additional support for married couples and ordinary families through the tax system.

We continue to advocate that important legislative changes should be included in the 2015 Conservative Party Manifesto that would protect those who believe in traditional marriage.

You have signalled the need for a Bill of Rights. This should include conscience clauses, which provide reasonable accommodation for teachers and registrars in the public sector and for all Churches (not just the C of E) and other faiths, which have concerns about SSM on religious or moral grounds. The current state of British Law on Same-Sex Marriage forces people in public office to act against their conscience and pressures people to be silent about their moral convictions on this matter or in some cases face the sack.  This is a trespass on religious freedom and freedom of speech.

It is vital that the legislation should allow freedom of conscience as follows:

  • Faith schools are not required to promote SSM.

·      Registrars, new or existing, who have a conscientious objection are not required to solemnise a SSM.

·      The 2010 Equality Act is amended to make clear that discussion or criticism of SSM shall not be taken of itself to be discrimination, to prevent discrimination against anyone who holds the belief that marriage is an exclusively heterosexual institution, and to make the belief that marriage is an exclusively heterosexual institution a ‘protected characteristic’.

·      Protection from accusations of discrimination for a vicar who decides not to opt-in to SSM, even though his/her church denomination has.

·      Strengthening protections against being compelled to solemnise SSMs by widening the definition of ‘compelled’ to include ‘less favourable treatment,’ ‘imposition of any criminal or civil penalty’ and ‘legal proceedings’.

·      Exclusion of religious organisations from the remit of the Bill.

·      Protections for religious organisations in the Equality Act to make it clear that public authorities must take ‘no regard’ of their views or actions regarding the solemnising of SSMs.

·      The Public Order Act be clarified to protect freedom of speech, to ensure that discussion or criticism of SSM is not, of itself, taken to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

Lady Hale, the UK Supreme Court Deputy President, has said that the law needs to change further to resolve clashes between human rights and faith. Since doctors and other medical staff are allowed on grounds of conscience not to sanction, perform or assist at abortions, though these are legal under state law, it is inconsistent to deny such accommodation to those in public office as regards same-sex marriage.

Regretfully, I am personally convinced that the Conservative Party has little chance of winning a majority at the General Election unless you reach a sensible accommodation on this subject and draw people back who have gone to UKIP or have no intention of voting at all.

We were all heartened by your excellent address at the end of the Party Conference which spoke to the head and heart of Conservative philosophy. However the post-conference ‘bounce’ of two per cent is not yet the seven per cent lead that is needed and in a later poll has been reversed. Indeed according to the Telegraph’s poll of polls, published this morning, Labour has an aggregate three per cent lead. This is a long way from the seven per cent lead we need to return you to No 10 given the idiosyncracies of the electoral boundaries.

To secure the necessary lead you need to win back those you have alienated. In the May 2013 ComRes poll, 28% voters cited SSM as the reason they would not vote Conservative in the upcoming elections.  Furthermore, 27% of those aged 18-24, and 35% aged 25-34 stated that SSM would NOT help us in the elections.

According to the accounts of 260 constituencies filed at the Electoral Commission Party membership dropped by about 10% in 2013.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the fall seems to be continuing this year. Such a fall of a further 10% brings membership down to about 100,000.

If you really do believe, as you profess, in the importance of the Christian heritage of the country, the centrality of the family, religious freedom and freedom of conscience in a democracy then you should respect the fact that a sizeable percentage of the population including Christians and many faith based ethnic groups are looking for such conscience clauses.  Failure to provide for them in the manifesto will alienate them further and seriously risk losing the election for you, and more importantly will hand Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street.

Those who pressed for this divisive legislation are not necessarily long term Conservative voters if at all. Those you have alienated are your own best footsoldiers – and few Generals win battles without “boots on the ground.”

Yours sincerely

Robert Woollard. Chairman,

Grassroots Conservatives Ltd.

posted by Grassroots Conservatives in News