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The man who rubbed salt into Tory wounds

Francis MaudeBy Patrick O'Flynn, Daily Express

WHAT do you do if you are the Tory high command and need to soothe the wounds of your battered party in the aftermath of a hugely divisive issue such as gay marriage?

If you are wise you apply a healing balm. In Conservative politics that means sending out one of the party’s favourites – a William Hague or an Eric Pickles – to throw an arm around traditionalists and reassure them that you still cherish them and respect their views.

What you do not do is to put up the uber-moderniser Francis Maude for a television interview to be broadcast on a flagship current affairs programme within hours of the vote.

Because if you do that then you surely know that Mr Maude will do what, as one ministerial colleague told me this week, he has done “a hundred times before”. He will rub salt into the wounds.

On Tuesday night, just after Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs helped a minority of Tory ones to push gay marriage through, Cabinet Office Minister Mr Maude popped up on Newsnight to agree with Kirsty Wark – the high priestess of the chattering classes – that much of his party was behind the times.

Ms Wark put it to him that Tory MPs who had voted against gay marriage had shown that they were not “in touch with the 21st century”.

She ridiculed specific colleagues of Mr Maude who had spoken against same sex marriage and challenged him to say what impression they had given of the party.

Rather than defend colleagues who had simply taken a more Conservative view on a matter of conscience, Maude replied: “Not a very strong one in any direction. Many members are completely relaxed about making the benefits of marriage available to all couples.”

He thereby went along with Ms Wark’s implication that opponents of the measure were to be viewed as troglodytes.

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