David Cameron has been warned by the former Tory deputy chairman Michael Ashcroft that he will do himself more political damage if he gives way to the Tory right over gay marriage than if he sticks to what he believes.
Basing his view on qualitative opinion polling, which the billionaire peer commissioned himself, Lord Ashcroft said: "If the Prime Minister were to drop his plans to introduce gay marriage he would be unlikely to win many back on the strength of it.
"People who oppose gay marriage would remember that he was in favour of it before the going got tough. Those who support it would see that he abandoned the idea in the face of a determined minority. Those who don't much care either way would notice another flip-flop." His findings showed how little the public is bothered by the issue.
Most people did not know that it was on the political agenda and more than a quarter said they had no opinion on it, either way. Of the rest, 42 per cent supported gay marriage and 31 per cent were against.
Lord Ashcroft's findings contrast with an opinion poll by the Coalition for Marriage, which showed that six out of 10 regular churchgoers said that they would be less likely to vote Conservative in future if the Government changes the legal definition of marriage.
Writing for the ConservativeHome website yesterday, Lord Ashcroft warned: "Ditching gay marriage would probably be more likely to put off joiners and considerers – whom we need if we are to win a majority – than it would to win back defectors."
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