A COUPLE of years ago over lunch, I was discussing potential successors to Nick Clegg with a leading Lib Dem when Tim Farron’s name came up. The problem, my lunch partner told me, was his religious faith. When it came to homosexuality and abortion, he continued, Mr Farron’s views just weren’t very liberal.
On Wednesday, Mr Farron resigned after leading the Lib Dems in the election. ‘To be a political leader — especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 — and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible,’ he said.
His assertion — that living as a committed Christian is ‘impossible’ for political leaders — is a profoundly depressing one. But is it right?
During the campaign Mr Farron was asked repeatedly whether he believed gay sex was a sin. On Sophy Ridge on Sunday, I pressed him for his personal views on abortion. Some viewers believed I was wrong to do so — that his private beliefs should remain just that, private. Mr Farron accused me of ‘banging on’ about his faith. In his resignation statement he said: ‘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.’
Voters have a right to know what their political leaders believe in. Gay men have a right to know if politicians believe they are committing a sin when they make love, and women who have had abortions have a right to know whether politicians think they have done something wrong. I do not believe I was ‘banging on’, but asking him about specific views. Not all Christians believe gay sex is wrong; some Christians have had abortions. But religious faith — whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Hindu — should not be used as an excuse to avoid answering legitimate questions.
When Theresa May, also a Christian, was asked if she thought gay sex was a sin she answered no. Mr Farron faced repeated questions because he did not give clear answers. His initial response was ‘we are all sinners’. When he did answer clearly — ‘I don’t believe gay sex is a sin’ — the questions stopped.
With voters demanding to know who they are voting for, questions about Mr Farron’s faith were inevitable — as many in the Lib Dems knew all along.
Tower tragedy highlights London homes apartheid
IMAGINE throwing your baby out of a ninth floor window. Losing your grip on the hand of your child as you stumble through a smoke-filled building. Desperately waving fairy lights to try and attract attention because you cannot escape. Or don’t imagine. Some things are just too horrific.
It is too early to know the full details of the fire at Grenfell Tower, but questions need to be answered urgently. Why were there no fire alarms for the building or sprinkler system? Did cladding (according to planning documents, partly designed to improve the appearance for wealthier neighbours) make the situation worse? Why were safety concerns seemingly ignored?
The tower block is in Kensington, one of the richest parts of London, where many properties lie empty after being acquired by wealthy foreign investors. These are questions for another day, but the tragedy has brought London’s housing apartheid into stark relief.
Corbyn shuffles to keep control
THERE was not much shuffling in Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle. The Labour leader declined to give an olive branch to ‘big beasts’ such as Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna or Hilary Benn. Instead he rewarded loyalty with new jobs for Ian Lavery, Dawn Butler and Andrew Gwynne. The sole Corbyn critic welcomed back was Owen Smith, who spectacularly failed to oust him in the 2016 leadership contest. In other words, the one man who no longer poses any threat to his leadership. I wonder is that why Team Corbyn felt so comfortable embracing him?