Above: Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats
Less than a week after the General Election the second party leader has quit. The leader of the UK Independence Party, Paul Nuttall, quit the day after the election after the party’s disastrous collapse at the election. He has now been joined by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron. The Liberal Democrats had a better election than UKIP, gaining a handful of new seats but also losing several seats. They came away with a final gain of four seats but their share of the popular vote dropped from 7.9% to 7.4%. Over 300 of their candidates lost their deposit, which means they forfeit the payment made to enable them to run for office as they failed to poll more than 5% of the popular vote in their constituencies. They were seen as still being punished for their Coalition agreement with the Conservatives in the hung parliament that followed the 2010 General Election at which they had 58 MPs. At the General Election in 2015 that number was reduced to just 8. Tim Farron became leader in 2015 after their leader at the time Nick Clegg resigned after the disastrous election. Mr Farron will remain as leader until his successor can be chosen.
Mr Farron said he had quit because he was “torn” between his Christian faith and the task of running a modern-day political party. He has been criticised lately for his Christian views, such as on issues of gay sex – which he finally said wasn’t a sin after five days of relentless pressure to clarify his position on the issue. The controversy became a distraction to the Lib Dems’ campaign during the General Election. He had been asked four times to say whether he believed or not that gay sex was a sin, but would not answer. It was only after being asked the question in Parliament that he said: “I do not.” He later said he was “getting tired of this line of questioning.” A day later at the end of April he told a BBC interviewer:
“I don’t believe gay sex is a sin.
“I take the view that as a political leader though my job is not to pontificate on theological matters.
“It seems to me that there is a General Election on at the moment, we need to be talking about big issues – health, social care, education, whether we’re in the single market or not.
“And it occurs to me really that this had become a talking point, an issue.”
He had said back in April that he didn’t hold different views in public and private but his resignation today suggests otherwise and it seems now that he can’t reconcile his personal faith and beliefs with running a liberal party. He has chosen his faith over politics and that’s fine and his right. Indeed, I am encouraged that he has decided to quit as I strongly believe there is no place in UK politics for expression of religion for someone who leads a socially liberal and democratic party. It has been a great tradition in this country that for the most part our politicians – at least in the main parties – resist the need to express their faith. There is not the need as there is in the United States, for instance, to profess your devotion to God, Jesus and the Bible in order to obtain political office. Two of our recent Prime Ministers, David Cameron and Tony Blair, were both Christians and men of faith but neither felt the need to let everyone else know this all the time. Mr Blair, for instance, converted to Catholicism – but did so after he left office. Mr Cameron was asked about his faith and said that he did not feel the need to discuss such matters. That is refreshing and despite how ingrained the Church of England is into the British State and Government it lacks the fervour with which it has consumed American politics for so long.
Mr Farron said he could have dealt “more wisely” with the issues around his faith during the General Election campaign and he insisted his decision to quit was his alone. This is perhaps a veiled reference to the resignation this morning of Brian Paddick (Lord Paddick), the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman who quit over Mr Farron’s “views on various issues.” Lord Paddick, who was a former candidate for the Mayor of London and before that was Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (MET), is gay and elaborated on his resignation: “I’ve resigned as shadow home secretary over concerns about the leader’s views on various issues that were highlighted during GE17.”
Undoubtedly the Lib Dems showing at the election on 8 June played a huge part in Mr Farron’s decision. The Lib Dem peer Lord Greaves described the election as “disastrous” and said that there were parts of the country where “no-one voted for us.” Speaking after Lord Paddick’s resignation but before his own today Mr Farron tried to put a positive spin on the poor election:
“In the last Parliament, we didn’t have any women and we didn’t feel it was right to elect a deputy in those circumstances.
“But I wanted to revive the role as it gives the party another powerful voice.
“Now a third of our parliamentary party is female and we have our most diverse group of MPs ever, I feel our MPs form a more representative group to elect a deputy leader”.
Above: Tim Farron reads his resignation statement watched by Norman Lamb (far left), a possible successor
Just a few hours later and he’s quit as leader, saying in a statement:
“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.
“A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment.
“To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me.”
He added: “I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.”
Mr Farron had not been tainted by the Coalition to the extent of other Lib Dem MPs as he was not a member of the Coalition government between 2010 and 2015. He has been a vocal opponent of Brexit, the only major party leader to be calling for a second referendum on whether the UK should actually quit the European Union (EU). Like many he was concerned that the country was heading towards a ‘hard’ Brexit – i.e. one with no exiting trade or other deals with the remaining countries of the EU. Although the electorate voted 54% to 48% in favour of leaving in the 2016 referendum, many have come to doubt the merits of leaving or at least a ‘hard’ Brexit. The result of this General Election and the successes of the Labour party in stopping Theresa May’s Conservative government from securing a majority is partly proof of these doubts. Mr Farron had hoped that his anti-Brexit stance would serve him well but the results of the General Election have shown that the electorate has swung dramatically back towards the traditional two parties – Labour and Conservative – at the expense of smaller parties such as UKIP and the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems have also haemorrhaged their traditionally loyal young voters who have gone to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. They may be opposed to Brexit but perhaps they haven’t forgot the treachery of the Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, in 2010 who went back on their pledge to not raise tuition fees by doing just that when they joined the Coalition with the Tories. Nick Clegg was ousted from his Sheffield seat last week.
While some in his party are praising his time as leader, such as Willie Rennie- leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats – who said he had been a “dynamic and inspirational” leader, others weren’t so generous. Former Lib Dem official Miranda Green criticised the timing of his resignation – coming on the day of the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington in London in which 12 people have been killed in a horrific fire that engulfed the tower block of residential flats. She described his timing showed he was “myopic and self-obsessed.” Here are some more reactions to his resignation:
- TOM BRAKE on Twitter: “Very sad @timfarron has resigned as #LibDems Party Leader. Under his leadership party membership doubled and no of MPs increased by 50%.”
- LAYLA MORAN MP on Twitter: “I thank @timfarron for the leadership he showed in his time as leader. Liberal values have never been more needed. New era for @LibDems.”
- YOUNG LIBERALS UK on Twitter: “Tim Farron doubled our membership by 100% and MPs by 50%. Thankyou for all your hard work and rebuilding us after 2015.”
- SAMUEL COATES on Twitter: “Lots of scorn about this. But there’s clearly more tension between frontline politics and traditional Christian views than there should be.”
- JAMES MILLAR on Twitter: “Interestingly a senior Lib Dem told me today that not time for another man from London as leader (ie Davey) – It’s Swinson time. #LibDems.”
- JOHN O’SULLIVAN on Twitter: “You’re right his Remoaner views cost him the election; but his Christian faith cost him the Lib-Dem leadership. Ad: No Christians Need Apply.”
- PHILIP SIM on Twitter: “Imagine @joswinson will go straight into the conversation for possible replacement, alongside Vince Cable.”
- LAURA KUENSSBERG on Twitter: “Strong and stable all the way UK – no govt deal yet, leader of lib Dems resigns, Corbyn reshuffles – election result not even a week old.” and “Interesting Corbyn’s reshuffle very limited – no big moves, deserved rewards for Gwynne and Lavery who ran campaign.”
- LORD PADDICK speaking to the Guardian: “It is very sad that he feels he cannot be a committed Christian and leader of the Liberal Democrats.”
- SEAN KEMP, former head of media for the Lib Dems: “I hoped that was going to be Tim and I feel very sorry for him. I wish he hadn’t made this decision but it was always going to be the most difficult issue for Tim as leader to balance his faith with what it means to be the leader of a liberal party in the 21st century.”
- PETE BROADBENT, acting Bishop of London: “No-one should have to choose between their faith and politics. [it is] deeply regrettable.”
A Lib Dem source said that the resignation was “a dilemma”, but then said: “It’s an opportunity also to have a first female leader, but there are some who feel anybody as leader who was part of the coalition government would be poisonous. That’s the conundrum.” Possible successors include Sir Vince Cable, Jo Swinson, Sir Ed Davey and Norman Lamb.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Tim Farron says gay sex is not a sin after he admits that he had allowed it to become an election ‘issue’ – telegraph.co.uk – 25 April 2017 – by Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent
- Paddick quits Lib Dem frontbench over Tim Farron’s ‘views’ – bbc.co.uk/news – 14 June 2017
- Farron quits as Lib Dem leader over clash between faith and politics – bbc.co.uk/news – 14 June 2017
- Who is Tim Farron? A profile of the ex-Liberal Democrat leader – bbc.co.uk/news – 14 June 2017 – by Brian Wheeler, Political Reporter
- Tim Farron quits as Lib Dem leader – theguardian.com – 14 June 2017 – by Jessica Elgot and Heather Stewart