By Melanie Phillips
The Tories are in ferment. Plots against David Cameron appear to be seeding like dandelion spores. Rebellion looms in the division lobbies.
The list of Mr Cameron's apparent crimes lengthens by the day.
The threatened triple-dip depression. Gay marriage. Labour's lead in the opinion polls. And the fact that the Prime Minister looks like a loser.
To which one might marvel at just what a shower these Tories are.
For they have behaved mutinously towards every one of their leaders since they toppled Mrs Thatcher in 1990.
The reason for this never-ending uproar surely lies deeper, however, than indiscipline among power-crazed MPs or the deficiencies of individual leaders.
Indeed, it explains why the Tories just can't seem to produce a leader they do support.
It is that conservatism itself is in crisis.
With some honourable exceptions, today's Tories don't appear to know what conservatism is for and what it is against.
In the last century, they all knew they had to defend Britain against socialism.
But when the Berlin Wall fell and Labour started speaking the language of market economics, the Tories seemed to conclude that their fox had been shot.
They could not have been more wrong. The attempt by the Left to undermine and topple Western society had merely shifted from political revolution to social and cultural issues.
And at the very centre of that systematic onslaught lay the intention to destroy the unique importance of the married family and replace it by a lifestyle free-for-all.
Not understanding the full significance of what was happening, the Tories made a total mess of the issue in the 'back to basics' fiasco under John Major, and then staged a full retreat under a barrage of attacks from the Left.
Full retreat: The Tories made a total mess of the issue in the 'back to basics' fiasco under John Major
When David Cameron first emerged as Tory leader, he seemed refreshingly to understand the importance of marriage. Indeed, his early pledge to introduce marriage tax breaks served as a kind of guarantee to traditionalists that he was a safe pair of hands.
He still insists that it remains a really important priority for him. So important, it seems, that he has repeatedly reneged on this promise - most recently in the past few days when it has been made clear that any such proposal will not after all feature, as had been trailed, in the next Budget.
Yet of all the promises Mr Cameron could make, this one is the most crucial.
It's not just that tax breaks provide a financial incentive to get married, and that the present financial system effectively punishes couples for tying the knot. Rewarding marriage serves as a statement that married families are more socially desirable than other types of household.
Which is presumably precisely why Mr Cameron cannot or will not introduce such a policy. Certainly, the Deputy Prime Minister is implacably opposed - on the specious grounds that no one gets married for money. What a lot this says about Nick Clegg. It's not just his inability to appreciate that what for him is small change represents a considerable sum for people on very low incomes.
Nick Clegg, the son of a millionaire bank, is implacably opposed - on the specious grounds that no one gets married for money
It's also that - how strange! - we never hear him using this argument the other way round, objecting to the various financial advantages of marriage being extended to lone parents, cohabiting or gay couples. And that's because the real agenda of 'lifestyle choice' evangelists like Mr Clegg is to knock the traditional family off its pedestal.
For at the heart of the decades-long onslaught by the Left against the core tenets of Western society lies the doctrine of 'non-judgmentalism', under which it has become forbidden to suggest that anyone's lifestyle is more socially desirable than any other.
Worse still, those whose behaviour lies outside conventional social norms are deemed to be 'victims' and their demands have been relabelled 'rights'.
So views that mothers and fathers are better for children than lone parents or step-parents, or that deliberately having babies outside marriage is selfish and irresponsible, have became unsayable.
The fundamental need children have for their own mother and father has simply been trumped by the selfish desires of adults.
To mask this abandonment of children, their core need was redefined as being 'lifted out of poverty' - which merely made their mothers ever more dependent on state benefits, and thus promoted sexual anarchy even further.
The result has been an unmitigated disaster. In some areas, several generations of family disintegration have resulted in a total breakdown in parenting, so that children are becoming horrifyingly incapable of even basic functions.
According to the Government's adviser on problem families, Louise Casey, some three-year-olds are unable to walk because they are habitually parked in their buggies in front of the TV.
Louise Casey (l) has said some three-year-olds are unable to walk because they are habitually parked in their buggies in front of the TV, and And Russell Hobby (r) has spoken of children who haven't been taught to speak
And Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, has spoken of children who, when they come to school, can only grunt as they haven't been taught to speak; and who may also still be in nappies at the age of five.
Ms Casey laments that no official initiatives seem to get through to such families. Of course not - because the one thing that is needed above all, to remove the perverse incentives that have destroyed marriage in such areas, is the one policy that will never be enacted.
The real reason the Tories won't properly address this is not just the inane social nihilism of Nick Clegg. It is surely because the Tory leadership itself has such a shallow and reductive view of marriage - including among its supposed cheerleaders.
Look at the reasons they give for supporting marriage - that it promotes stability, unselfishness and self-sacrifice. That was the substance of Michael Gove's paean of praise for the institution yesterday, as he made the case for extending it to gays.
Similarly, Mr Cameron says marriage is all about commitment and that it's better for children to be brought up in strong and stable relationships.
All very true. But it misses the point. Tellingly, neither of them identifies what makes marriage a unique institution.
This is that it is the safest way of generating human identity, which is necessarily produced by the conjunction of male and female.
That is why children's psychological health - despite the heroic efforts of so many lone parents - generally depends on their being brought up by both a mother and father.
That is why marriage is unique, and why it has a unique place in society. And that is why it is socially so destructive to promote the expansion of any sexual relationships outside marriage.
But the Tory leadership never says this. It presents marriage not as the inimitable union of the two components of human identity, but instead merely as a utilitarian contract. Thus for all its weasel words it has made marriage intensely vulnerable.
To ensure the success of its social engineering project, the Left also hijacked the language. 'Equality' was twisted into identical outcomes; 'compassion' became a fig-leaf for irresponsibility; and 'liberal' became a synonym for bullying.
Failing utterly to grasp what was happening, the Cameroons decided to 'detoxify the Tory brand' by themselves adopting these corrupted terms and ideas.
Accordingly, they turned themselves into collaborators with those cultural revolutionaries whose aim was to unpick the intricate tapestry of laws, customs and attitudes that had made Britain civilised.
Instead of realising that the supreme task for today's conservatives is to fight this culture war, they even incorporated the most subversive part of its agenda - the undermining of the traditional family - into their own programme.
It is this betrayal of conservatism which lies at the heart of the Tories' discontents - and for which they will never be forgiven.
Note: I support SSM, but agree with Ms Phillips on many points that she makes within this piece. In my mind, the current societal problems are less about the idea of letting homosexuals marry than the perverse incentives that government gives for women not to marry and the refusal of society to acknowledge that some relationships are better than others. How can we say that there are no relationships that we should not condemn as unequal and morally unacceptable? Can we honestly argue that the extramarital relationship a man has is as important as the one that he has with his wife, especially when it causes great harm to children? Do we really want to say that paedophilic relationships are of equal worth with that of an intact family? Of course not and moral relativism is a corrosive that is undermining society.
As to the issue of SSM, Conservatives are hardly the only group split and the subject is not one where everyone, but the "far right-wing" agrees. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, retired in protest and he is a Fabian Socialist, who was one of the leaders that fought to make the CofE accept gay priests.
SSM is not a priority for most of the British people at this time of economic uncertainty, “austerity” a/k/a tax rises (and deep spending cuts, which are postponed indefinitely, Krugman), growing distrust and animosity of the EU, problems caused by unlimited immigration (which is about to get worse under new EU rules), feral children, a welfare class that sees no value of any kind in work, etc.
The people that believe this is high up on the list of priorities are Etonians like Muffin Cameron.