On Thursday night, Tim Farron gave a barnstorming, passionate, electrifying first speech as leader of the Liberal Democrats. It was him at his best. And it no doubt terrified opponents in the Labour Party. Here was someone with energy and passion, talking about tackling inequality and fighting for the underdog in a way that they haven’t had the drive to do for years.
So it was inevitable that there would be some kind of backlash against Tim. It came in the form of reaction to an interview he gave to Channel 4’s Cathy Newman. In the interests of provocative journalism, she decided to press him on whether he considered gay sex to be a sin, quoting bits of the Bible at him. Tim was a bit uncomfortable as his rather long theological response suggested. That’s hardly surprising.
Do we really think that it is appropriate for politicians to be expressing personal views on whether ANYTHING is a sin or not? If he’d given a direct answer, he’d have opened the floodgates to that line of questioning. “Mr Farron, is sex outside marriage a sin?” It could go as far as: “Mr Farron, see that Caron Lindsay, she’s a total heathen, will she burn in hell?” It would never end.
If he answered that either way, I think I’d be a bit livid. It’s not up to him to be making a value judgement on my heathen-ness, it’s up to him to protect my right to be as heathen as I like. And he will, because he’s a liberal, in the same way that he will always come down on the side of LGBT equality. LGBT people can be confident that Tim has their backs.
Andrew Hickey has done a useful Storify with some tweets from a few of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats which is worth reading.
If Norman had been elected, many of the same political opponents would be creating a social media firestorm about his voting record on tuition fees and the Bedroom Tax. It was quite telling that during the campaign when I spoke up for our ministers on this issue, I was, without my knowledge, added to the top secret Team Lamb hideout on Facebook by someone who assumed if I was saying something nice about Norman, I must be supporting him for leader. It was only when I made a glib comment about Tim on a video that was posted that I was ejected within seconds by one of the moderators, making it only the second place I’ve been expelled from in my life. If you’re interested, the first was riding school when I was six, for talking too much. The point of that is that I know how much good Norman did as a Minister and that mitigates him being bound by collective responsibility and having to vote for things that I really don’t like. At the time of the tuition fees vote, I wrote to Lynne Featherstone and said to her that if she wasn’t there because she’d had to resign as a minister, the vital work for women and girls that she was pushing through government just wouldn’t get done.
Our new leader was always going to take a whole firestorm of flack on his election. I think that Tim can be counted upon to stand up for LGBT equality. That’s all that really matters. I don’t want to hear him or anyone else be questioned on a long line of activities and expected to opine as to whether they are sinful of not. I expect Tim would feel really uncomfortable at being expected to make such judgements anyway.
Watch his speech from the other night and see his relevant, practical, optimistic, joyful liberalism in action. It’s good stuff. This is exactly what we need our leader to be doing and saying. It is already bringing people to the party. I’d point out one particular post: one parliamentary candidate from the election said that his mother had joined on the strength of seeing it.