Friday, January 26, 2007

The adoption row - the scores on the door

I've been restraining myself from commenting on the row over the forthcoming Sexual Orientation Regulations for most of this week. The arguments for and against have been done to death across the blogosphere and the comment pages of the press (the best of the millions of pixels spilt over this have probably been by Alex over at love and liberty).

In some ways more interesting than the arguments themselves (at least to this political animal) have been how the various players have played their hand. So who were the winners and losers?

Winners

The LGB Community - Obviously

Alan Johnson - Although his fellow contenders for the deputy leadership jumped on the bandwagon later it is the Education Secretary who has been leading the fight within Whitehall for many months against the watering down of the regulations. I doubt this will have gone unnoticed within the PLP. Also having been slapped around by the Catholic Church over faith schools a few months ago revenge must taste sweet.

Archbishop Nichols - The Archbishop of Birmingham has allegedly been leading the charge with the Catholic Church to take a hard line over the issue. Although he lost this battle, being seen as such a staunch defender of traditional Catholic values/prejudices will probably not have done his chances of succeeding Cormac Murphy-O'Conner at Westminster any harm given the current incumbent of the Vatican.

Cabinet Government (the concept) - for the first time since 1997 (publicly at least) Tony Blair has been forced to back down in the face of a Cabinet revolt. Collective responsibility still does mean something then.

Losers

Cabinet Government (the practice) - The draft regulations never even made it to Cabinet Committee let alone full Cabinet. According to the book policy disagreements between ministers should be thrashed out in private in Committee, before the final fudge (sorry policy) is rubber stamped at Cabinet with everybody around the table able to go out and support it in public without the plebs ever knowing that there was a disagreement. I think we can safely say that in this case the practice hasn't lived up to the ideal.

Tony Blair - Not only did he lose the battle, but any last vestiges of authority he had around Whitehall in terms of influencing policy has now slipped away. Pleasing Number 11 is now the only game in town.

Ruth Kelly - Its hard not to feel sorry for the Member for Bolton West. Like her predecessor John Prescott, Kelly has now got to the stage that whatever she does she will get vilified in the press. Managed to do some short term damage control by the end of the week by successfully shifting most of the blame onto Tony and Cherie, but reinforcing her reputation as being tied to Tony's apron strings can't be helpful for her medium term future.

The Catholic Church - until this week seemingly playing a blinder. Had the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State in their pocket and in picking the issue of adoption to fight on (which plays on the prejudices in minds of many straights about the links between gay men and paedophilia) they seemed to be fighting on firmer ground than the opponents of the Northern Ireland regulations who choose to stand up for the rights of guest house owners everywhere. However, they badly misjudged their hand. Raising the issue of child protection turned out (predictably) to be a double edged sword, leaving themselves open to cheap shots about Priests seeming predilection for choir boys especially given Murphy-O'Conner's history of covering up such a scandal. More importantly they overreached themselves by threatening to close down their adoption agencies. Such a blatant piece of blackmail only served to put the backs up of many of the more bloody minded on the Labour benches.

Dodged a Bullet

David Cameron - The Tories are much more deeply split on this issue than Labour are, as the vote in the Lords on the Northern Ireland regulations demonstrated. If the row had rumbled on Dave would have come under increasing pressure to take sides. It would have been an interesting test of how deep the modernisers makeover has gone as to how loudly the Tombstone group would have screamed if as one suspects he took the liberal option (supporting the Church would have been manna from Heaven for those who argue his reforms are only skin deep). Now when the regulations come up for vote nobody will notice the Conservatives splitting down the middle on a free vote.

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