Cameron to take sex out of marriage

By DAVID WOODING
SEX is to be taken out of marriage law – so gay couples can tie the knot.
Ministers plan to solve a legal wrangle by ditching the historic requirment for newlyweds to consummate their union.
The rules say a marriage is not complete until a man and wife have “ordinary and complete” intercourse.
But the detailed description of what that means would make it impossible for gay and lesbian couples to fulfil their vows.
I’m not going to go into the precise wording of what consummation means by law for fear of readers crying “Too much information.” But suffice to say the coalition is considering a re-write of a key section of the Matrimonial Causes Act.
It would end the right to annul a marriage on the grounds of non-consummation.
Last night a furious MP claimed it would reduce marriage to the level of a civil partnership – an option already available to gay people.
Tory Edward Leigh accused Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone diminishing the meaning of wedlock for everyone.
He said: “If the government presses ahead with the redefinition of marriage, it will have profound effects on the ability of individuals to have a marriage annulled.
“This is something that is particularly important to Catholics for whom annulment is permitted by the church, but divorce is not.”
Ministers have been forced to consider dropping consummation so the law applies equally to straight and same-sex couples.
Rash
But in a letter to Ms Featherstone, Mr Leigh warns the legislation is complex and cannot be changed “at the stroke of a pen”.
And he warned of a rash of legal challenges if the need to consummate a marriage is removed.
“In legal terms, this would mean a couple are married the moment they complete either a civil or religious marriage ceremony,” he said.
“This would diminish marriage to the level of a legal contract and remove any link between marriage and children – or indeed between marriage and physical intimacy.
“This would constitute an unprecedented assault on the deeply-held beliefs of those who say a marriage is not complete until the act of consummation.
“It would fly in the face of assurances that this change would only affect marriages solemnised by a civil wedding since all marriages would be affected by this change.”

Queens
It is the latest legal controversy to engulf plans to allow gays and lesbians equal marriage rights.
Ministers have been warned they may need to re-write the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.
It does not allow same-sex marriages and a change would be needed to allow two Queens or two Kings on the throne.
Gay marriage has caused a massive split in Tory ranks – despite PM David Cameron promising MPs a free vote.
Home Secretary Theresa May last week became the most senior minister to back marriages for all.
She said she was a strong supporter of marriage and it should be available to everyone regardless of sexual orientation.
But fellow Cabinet minister Owen Paterson is the most senior Tory MP to oppose the idea.

Chillax…the Prime Minister’s down time

By DAVID WOODING
DAVID Cameron has been branded the most laid-back Prime Minister in modern history after details of his secret leisure habits were revealed.
He switches off by playing snooker, watching “crap” films, quaffing three or four glasses of wine with lunch and having an afternoon nap.
Family weekends at Chequers are spent playing tennis against a machine dubbed “the Clegger”.
His country retreat even has a karaoke machine where he whiles away the evenings.
Lazy 
A close pal denied claims Mr Cameron is lazy but admitted: “If there was an Olympic gold medal for chillaxing he would win it.
“He is capable of switching off in a way that almost no other politician I know of can.”
The PM’s pastimes are laid bare in a new book which lifts the lid on his downtime at Chequers.
It will revive claims by critics that he is too lazy and complacent and is tempted to coast.
Tory and Labour opponents have dubbed him “DVD Dave” for his love of boxed sets and have poked fun at his weekly “date nights” with wife Sam.
But supporters say his ability to unwind helps him cope with the strain of the job without going off the rails.
His Sunday routine starts with an early thumb through the papers, according to the book “Cameron, Practically a Conservative” by Francis Elliott and James Hanning.
He then checks a few things on his computer and may take a couple of phone calls.
But he doesn’t go back obsessively checking the computer or re-writing speeches or fretting about what Sunday columnists have written.
A pal said that after absorbing information and telling his aides what action to take, he tells himself: “I will now go into the vegetable patch, watch a crap film on telly, play with the children, cook, have three or four glasses of wine with my lunch, have an afternoon nap, play tennis.”
Mr Cameron makes full use of a machine that serves high-velocity tennis balls at him on the Chequers court.
He has called it “the Clegger” after his hard-fought 7-5 victory over the Deputy PM.
Once when he was alone at the house one weekend, he called a friend to invite him over for a game of snooker.
But Mr Cameron doesn’t take his luxury retreat for granted.
He has told his kids to make the most of their weekends there.
Relax
And he insists visiting children pose for pictures with him, warning his time at the country retreat will be short-lived.
Daughter Nancy, eight, once told a guest: “Daddy says we’re to enjoy it here as we won’t be here for long.”
One observer said: “David is probably the most laid-back Prime Minister in a long time.
“He’s a world apart from Gordon Brown who beavered away 24/7. He is even tempered and easily shrugs of criticism. He takes everything in his stride and knows when to knuckle down and when to relax.”
But friends say his enthusiastic leisure time is a good sign and shows he is at ease with power.
Education Secretary Michael Gove insists weekends at Chequers, frequent holidays and set family meal times showed he was NORMAL.
He added: “He is the model of how to have a clear divide between the world of work and then relaxation so you can clear your mind.
“There are very few people who have such a finely developed capacity to do that.”

The rise of “McParenting”

By DAVID WOODING
 
PARENTS who keep their kids quiet with junk food and computer games have been blasted by a senior Labour MP.
Diane Abbott warned the rise of “McParenting” was putting the life chances of a generation at risk.
The shadow public health minister said children spent too much time eating chips, watching TV or on PlayStation 3.
She urged mums and dads to spend more time with their kids, giving love and healthy food before possessions.
Ms Abbott attempted to reclaim the families agenda for Labour in a major speech today.
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She said: “We all know that in 21st Century Britain, families come in all shapes and sizes.
“But what I want to warn about is the rise of what I call McParenting.
“Let me be clear what I mean by this phrase. Parents in Britain, of any class or colour, who substitute materialism for parental responsibility. Children who have PlayStation 3s, chips and locked bedrooms, when they should have fresh air, healthy food and warm family relationships.”
Ms Abbott believes too many people from all walks of life think parenting is about “things” – McDonald’s, tuition fees, video games, rather than engagement.
She told the Policy Exchange think tank: “It’s time we spoke up for family love.
“I want to talk about children who get chicken and chips for dinner from the take-away every evening. About the little boy locked away in his room, surfing the dark corners of the internet. About the father who has never been to the park or swimming pool with his daughter. About the mother who’s default position is to curse her son’s school, ahead of turning the television off at home once in a while.
“It cannot be a good thing that by the age of ten, the average British child recognises nearly 400 brand names.”
Ms Abbott wants action to support families, including legal protection for kids from junk food marketing.
She is also demanding teaching of practical cooking skills in schools, and more opportunities for families to get outdoors.
The MP later added: “I am right behind Jamie Oliver when he argues that this Government is a disaster for the health of British kids. The Government should listen to him.
“The Government’s entire strategy has become an expensive advertising programme for its friends in big business, and it’s just not good enough.
“Responsibility deals that rely on voluntary action by the fast-food business, manufacturers and retailers are failing. You cannot expect big business, which makes billions every year by marketing sugary, fatty and unhealthy foods, to willingly limit its own profiteering.”

It’s The Sun wot swung it…or was it?

By DAVID WOODING

MYTHS and conspiracy theories galore have been peddled at the Leveson inquiry about the power broking that goes on between newspaper owners and political leaders.

But today I find myself agreeing with Alastair Campbell. Labour’s former spin doctor told the hearing there was no “express deal” between Labour’s Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch in the run-up to the 1997 election.

He goes even further and downplays the “perceived power” of newspapers to influence elections.

“I just don’t buy it,” he said. “The Sun backed us because we knew we were going to win. We didn’t win because The Sun backed us.”

There are two things that trouble me, however, about his insistence that Labour didn’t care whether or not he won the support of  Britain’s top-selling newspaper.

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First of all, why was the party leadership  so incensed when The Sun ended 13 years of support?

And secondly,  I wonder if he could explain the slightly different view voiced in a private discussion I had with a senior figure close to Mr Blair just before polling closed on May 1, 1997.

I am not going to reveal my source, but I was summoned to a hotel room in Sedgefield and told in gushing terms how The Sun helped to clinch the landslide victory.

The Labour source said:  “The Press has made a huge difference in this campaign.

“If we’d had The Sun going on at us hell-for-leather on Europe, it could have been a different story.”

I used his words to create a story under the headline “It was The Sun wot swung it” which was publshed next day. (See reproduction of the story below)

My own view has always been that politicians talk to journalists to spread their message, promote themselves,  and smear the opposition – sometimes those within their own party.

We in turn stay close to them because it’s our job to get stories.

Funny how one party cries foul when the other is getting all the attention and then says it is perfectly above board when it’s their turn to get a good Press.

Give us credit for your successes if you want to – or claim it was all your own work.

But you can’t have it both ways.

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The article from The Sun, May 2, 1997:

It’s The Sun wot swung it

By DAVID WOODING

JUBILANT Tony Blair praised The Sun last night for helping to clinch his stunning General Election victory.

The new PM admittedBritain’s favourite newspaper played a big part in swinging millions of voters behind New Labour.

He told party bigwigs our support was vital in spreading the message that the party was fit to govern.

A source close to Mr Blair said: “The Press has made a huge difference in this campaign.

“If we’d had The Sun going at us hell-for-leather onEurope, it could have been a different story.”

It is the SECOND time in five years that a political leader has said “Thanks my Sun” for helping him to electoral triumph. After John Major clinched victory from Labour at the 1992 poll, Tories admitted: “It’s The Sun what won it.”

Mr Blair was swift to give credit to our role in his win when he looked back over his 34-day election trail.

He believes the size of his majority was down to the success of his carefully-run campaign – and getting the message across.

But he was also thankful for a series of own-goals from the Tories, whose election strategy he branded “a shambles.”

A senior source in the Labour leadership camp said: “We did an awful lot right and they didn’t score many points on the key issues.

“One of their big mistakes was thinking a long campaign would suit them. In fact, it was great for us. We are used to it. We ran an extremely successful campaign. Our message was loud and clear. We were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

“But if there is one person responsible for the result, it is Tony.

“He was fantastic and this will give him added strength when he moves into No 10 as Prime Minister.”

For the first time, officials admitted Mr Blair was hit by the jitters as John Major tried to make him crack.

Slick

Tories even put an undercover “gaffe watch” unit on the Labour leader and deputy John Prescott for three weeks. But they called off the spy team when they failed to find a single chink in Labour’s slick campaign strategy.

A source added: “Tony would be the first to admit he was very tense at the start of the campaign.

“Although he knew much time and effort would be spent trying to discredit him, I don’t think it dawned on him until it started.

“There was a certain amount of tension. The last weeks have meant a huge change in his family’s lives.

“He grew in confidence and stature as time went on, and by the final week he was really motoring. It has been superb to watch him go.”

Mr Blair admitted last night he feels SORRY for John Major. A source said: “He has some sympathy, but thinks Mr Major never faced up to the difficulties in the Tory Party.”