I don't know about you, but in a time of economic hardship for millions I expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be sat behind his desk with his sleeves rolled up working tirelessly to fix the problem. But George Osborne appears to have the time to sit back and fantasise (for it is a fantasy) that redefining marriage will somehow help the Tories to win the next election. He shared his fantasy with us ordinary folk in a newspaper article on Tuesday.
We already knew the Chancellor was utterly out of touch with real voters. But his article in The Times proves it beyond doubt. In the real world, voters worry about mortgages, living standards, greedy banks, jobs and public services. But in Mr Osborne's creative imagination, he thinks redefining marriage will cause millions of voters to rush to the ballot box and vote for his party. UK polls show this is never going to happen. The Tories could lose up to 30 seats and over 1 million votes if they meddle with marriage.
Yet Mr Osborne pins his flimsy dream on the results of the US election, in particular on four state ballots which related directly to the marriage issue. You'd hope a Chancellor would, at least, be good with numbers. But it seems Mr Osborne has utterly misread the data. Those marriage votes took place in four very liberal states. Pro-gay marriage campaigners outspent their opponents by $20 million, a ratio of 4:1. Yet they could only win by the skin of their teeth. In other words, states which President Obama won comfortably came extremely close to voting against the redefinition of marriage. And, lest we forget, 31 other US sates have firmly voted against redefining marriage. 31-4 doesn't sound like a winning strategy to me.
Mr Osborne's take on the issue has been sharply criticised in the British press on Wednesday morning. The Daily Telegraph says:
George Osborne, the Chancellor, donned his party strategist hat yesterday to claim that if the Tories do not embrace gay marriage, it could cost them the next general election. He based this startling observation on his analysis of last week's US elections, when President Obama secured a decisive advantage over Mitt Romney among women voters.
Leaving aside the fact that it was probably the Republicans' anti-abortion stance that proved a more salient issue for women than gay marriage, such a literal read-across to British politics is dangerously misleading. In the United States, same-sex couples have far fewer legal rights than married couples. In this country, the Civil Partnership Act passed by the Blair government in 2004 removed any such distinctions. Mr Osborne is perfectly aware of this fact. He is also aware that there is little popular pressure in favour of gay marriage - on the contrary, there is widespread opposition - but that, too, is deemed irrelevant. The only point that matters here is political posturing. Mr Osborne wants to demonstrate that the Conservatives really are a "modern" party by picking a symbolic and needless fight with social conservatives.
He is playing a dangerous game. Six hundred thousand people have signed a petition opposing same-sex marriage. All faiths will mobilise against it because Church leaders are unconvinced by the Government's promise that they will not be allowed to conduct such ceremonies in any case. Ed Miliband has already said that they should - and human rights legislation would certainly ensure that test cases would swiftly be brought before the courts, both here and in Europe, raising the prospect of Churches being forced by law to conduct marriage ceremonies they do not recognise. Is that really what Mr Osborne wants?
And the Daily Express says:
IT IS remarkable that Chancellor George Osborne should find the time to pontificate about social issues, such as the abortion law and gay marriage, that fall way outside his Treasury brief.
Mr Osborne appears to believe that being "socially liberal" is the key to electoral success.
In fact, most voters believe fixing the economy and dealing with bread and butter issues about living standards are by far the most important tasks facing the Government.
Many longtime Conservatives are also fed up of seeing their party's leadership trampling on their beliefs and depicting anyone who doesn't embrace the full liberal agenda as a bigot.
Mr Osborne would be much better advised to treat being Chancellor of the Exchequer as a full-time job.
And if he is not prepared to do so then David Cameron should find somebody who is.
Well, quite. Sorting out the economy and the banks should be the only things on Mr Osborne's mind. But his daydreaming about redefining marriage shows he's got way too much time on his hands.