Tory Leaders: Equal marriage was ‘not an issue’ in losing the Eastleigh by-election

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Members of Tory leadership, including Michael Gove and David Cameron, have denied that the issue of equal marriage played a role in the party losing the Eastleigh by-election, the result of which was announced today.

The Conservative Party’s Maria Hutchings, who is against same-sex marriage, was defeated in the Eastleigh by-election last night by the Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton, a supporter of marriage equality. She finished third behind UKIP’s Diane James.

Commenting on the result, Michael Gove said there was not “a single person who mentioned gay marriage” to him on the Eastleigh doorstep. “It was not an issue.”

David Cameron was insistant that such results would not push him to change direction on equal marriage, and stood by his support of equal marriage.

“I don’t think we should tack this way, tack that way,” the Prime Minister said. “What we have got to do is deliver for people who work hard, who want to get on, and deliver on the agenda that they care about and I care about.”

These sentiments were shared by Michael Fallon, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, who said the result in Eastleigh “wasn’t anything to do with gay marriage”.

He went on to say: “Gay marriage was not a big issue in the by-election in Eastleigh.”

Conservative members opposed to the equal marriage bill have been critical of the ongoing support for equal marriage by the Conservative Party leadership.

Bob Woollard, chairman of Conservative Grassroots, set up by current and former chairmen of Tory associations opposed to equal marriage said voters were likely to look to national party direction when deciding in a vote such as Eastleigh.

He said Mrs Hutchings was “a true grassroots candidate”, and blamed equal marriage for her failure to win the by-election.

“However voters tend to pay more attention to the direction of the national party and the current direction is clearly not one that connects with Conservative voters,” he said.

“The Conservative Party urgently needs to return to core Conservative values if we are to stand any chance of winning an outright majority in 2015.”

Mrs Hutchings, who came third with was 10,559 votes was a controversial candidate for the Tories. Her opposition to equal marriage surfaced last month when she revealed that had she already been elected as an MP, she would have joined the 136 Tories who voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill last month.

It was passed by the Commons with a majority of 225 and the bill is now receiving further parliamentary scrutiny before a third reading by MPs and House of Lords approval.

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of former Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne, after he pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice.

Turnout was 53%.

Following the result, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has said that David Cameron can only win back traditional Tory votes if he stops talking about issues such as same-sex marriage.