Tories are out of touch on family, warns leaked report

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A confidential internal Tory party report has warned William Hague that his party is anti-gay and in danger of being out of touch with the public on women's issues and marriage.

A confidential internal Tory party report has warned William Hague that his party is anti-gay and in danger of being out of touch with the public on women's issues and marriage.

The Conservative Policy Forum, the official link between the leadership and grassroots Tories, talked to party members and warned Mr Hague that while there was a widespread internal support for traditional values many felt "that too heavy an emphasis on traditional marriage by our party would be politically unwise".

In the report leaked to The Independent, the forum said some party members "are concerned that the party's focus on 'family policy' may alienate more people than it attracts, like [John Major's] ill-fated 'back-to-basics' campaign". Mr Hague intends to make the family a key general election issue after Tony Blair admitted in a memo leaked last month that he and his Government were seen as "out of touch with gut British instincts" on the matter.

The survey found that most party members believe marriage is "the better foundation for family life". Several of the 270 local discussion groups who took part believed "a formally married couple to be the only genuine core of a family" and some deplored "the present moral state" of society.

However, most Tory members, whose average age is 63, accept that unmarried people will live together, but when asked to define "a family," about half said the key issue was whether people lived together while one-quarter described a family as a married couple with children or other relatives living with them. Only 39 of the 270 local groups defined single mothers as a "family" and only 22 mentioned same-gender couples.

"There is overwhelming opposition to the inclusion of overtly homosexual or lesbian couples in any of the definitions of the family," said the report.This opposition will worry Tory campaigners for homosexual rights, who are already alarmed at the defection to Labour of Ivan Massow, the millionaire gay businessman.

Asked to name the current political issues that concerned them most, Tories ranked in order of preference: law and order, Europe and the euro, asylum-seekers, the NHS, the economy and taxation, the constitution, foreign policy and defence, the environment and countryside issues, the Conservative Party and Central Office, education and child care, the media, red tape, social security and pensions, Northern Ireland and transport (including fuel costs). Conservatives on the left of the party have been urging Mr Hague to give greater priority to the NHS and education rather than traditional Tory issues such as law and order and immigration.

The survey revealed that among grassroots supporters there was growing support for greater recognition of marriage in the tax system, a response to Labour's decision to abolish the married couple's allowance. "We see marriage as a discipline which enhances the social structure," declared Tories in Plymouth Sutton.

Many Tory activists disapprove of treating women as a special category, said the report. A small minority believe mothers should not be encouraged to go out to work. But others demanded Tory policies to help "modern working women," such as child care, flexible working conditions and retraining after career breaks.

"Many groups believe that the party itself should improve its image for young working women," said the report. "It should seek more young women Parliamentary candidates to present a more broadly based profile."The survey provoked "a large number of comments" that the Tories should reform the way their local parties work to encourage young working people to become involved.

The findings reflect concern among Tories that the party is seen as "anti-women". Only 14 of the 122 female MPs are Tories, and few have been selected to fight winnable seats at the next general election.