I joined the Liberal Democrats after listening to Nick Clegg’s speech upon resigning as leader of the party following the 2015 General Election. I had always voted for the Lib Dems, but on that day Nick inspired me to do more than just put my X in the box every few years. I knew I had to join the fight for liberal politics in our country, and I was one of thousands who joined the Lib Dems in the following weeks, heralding a rejuvenation for a party badly battered and scarred from a punishing defeat in the polls, when many pundits gleefully predicted that we would be no more than an irrelevance from that day onwards.
In that climate, one of the first tasks for members new and old alike was to elect a new leader. From a pool of just eight MPs, two stepped forward. Tim Farron and Norman Lamb must have known that this would be a thankless task. The Liberal Democrats had reached their nadir. Public mood had turned against them, and the Tories were surging ahead, helped in no small part by Labour’s collapse and subsequent infighting. Nonetheless, Tim and Norman put themselves forward for the sake of the party they loved. I voted for Tim in the leadership election. I had (and still have!) a huge amount of respect for Norman. I think he’s a wonderful advocate for mental health, and the epitome of the perfect local MP. But something about the way Tim spoke about Liberalism and his vision for the country made me sit up and listen. He spoke for me. He shared the same vision as me, of a country that was stronger, fairer and kinder. He had my vote, and from the moment he was elected he stood up and fought for our party, and for our country.
Now here we are, two years later, with another General Election under our belts, and facing a leadership election once more. Tim Farron has resigned. The sustained attacks from mainstream media on what they perceived as a conflict between his religion and his politics seems to have forced him to the conclusion that he can no longer lead the party that’s in his very blood – and I am infuriated. It isn’t Tim I’m angry with. On the contrary, I am immensely grateful to him for giving so much of himself to our party, ceaselessly speaking up for the 48% of the country who voted to Remain, and for the tens of thousands of Liberal Democrats who still believe our country can be better than the divided, nationalistic insignificance the Tories would have it become. My rage is directly solely at the media.
Tim is the very definition of a liberal. Whatever his personal beliefs may be, he has never allowed them to impact on his politics. He has fought consistently and vociferously for equal rights across the entirety of our society, at both a national and international level. However, despite that evidence, all the media wanted to focus on throughout the election campaign was the fact that Tim is a Christian.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying there are questions that shouldn’t be asked. What I am furious about, though, is the inconsistency – and yes, the bias showed by journalists across the spectrum. Tim was targeted incessantly by journalists like Andrew Neil and Cathy Newman, who insisted on asking repeatedly for his views on gay sex and abortion. Valid questions, yes, but the same questions are never asked of the self-professed religious Theresa May, who not only expressed the belief that God would guide her through Brexit, but is willing to cut deals with the openly anti-LGBT, anti-abortion DUP in order to cling onto power.
In the Liberal Democrats we don’t compromise our beliefs. We stand up for what we think is right, and we act for the best for the country as a whole, prioritising society over what might be best for us personally, or for the party itself. I suspect that’s why Tim chose to resign. It’s been clear over the past two years how deeply proud he was to lead our party, and if he thought the media would look past his religion, perhaps he wouldn’t have been forced to make this decision.
I know I’m not alone in expressing how proud I am of Tim, and how grateful I am for everything he’s done for our party. He has led us back to a position of record membership, 50% more MPs than we had in 2015, and strong, unwavering stance on Brexit. It’s a huge legacy for the next leader to inherit – but as Liberal Democrats, it’s my opinion that all of us need to continue to fight for the liberal society Tim believes in so passionately, but knows to his great personal cost we haven’t yet achieved.
There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.
Even so, 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.
Tim Farron, 14 June 2017.
Nick Clegg inspired me to join the party when he stepped down. I have no doubt at all that Tim Farron will have inspired thousands of others last night. It’s time to stand together with one voice and fight for that tolerant, liberal society our country deserves.