Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems has resigned because he says “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.
That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”
The old Liberal Party – of which I was Chief Whip – was a Party of conscience and proud of its Christian foundations – a tradition which stretched back to Gladstone and included significant Christians from all denominations and traditions – from G.K.Chesterton to Clement Davies, from the high church to the nonconformist Wesleyan chapels.
That tradition was subsequently ridiculed by many Liberal Democrats, implacable in their hostility to Faith schools and insistent on imposing policies, such as abortion, on their members. Inevitably, this has made it a hostile place for people of Faith.
It is ironic that a Party, which I joined as a teenager, because of its belief in conscience, human rights and free speech, has morphed into something so narrow and intolerant that, in resigning, its leader says “we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society” and has been forced to choose between his Faith and his Party.
Doubtless his detractors will shed few tears at his departure – but in turning themselves into a secular version of the Exclusive Brethren they become a sect rather than a broad based political party. And they should reflect that millions of British people share his Christian beliefs.
This same narrow intolerance characteristic of the commentariat and the political elites has also fed into the creation of the less tolerant and unreasonable world in which we live.
Tim Farron should never have been forced to make this choice but has made the right call and should be admired for doing so.
GENERAL ELECTION BLUES
General Elections are never about “single issues” and what was particularly striking yesterday were the number of young people who voted this time – particularly in response to Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to abolish university fees and to end austerity. Among younger voters, he also benefitted from the Bernie Sanders tactic of being anti-establishment – even anti his own parliamentary party.
He was helped by Theresa May’s lacklustre campaign which failed to capture the popular imagination or to set out her belief in a fairer or more just society. She has been badly damaged and has inevitably suffered a severe blow to her authority.
Although this has been a significant personal miscalculation, she has won the majority of seats and votes.
If political historians are looking for precedents they should consider the General elections of 1923 and 1924. In 1923 the Prime Minister, Bonar Law, became ill and was replaced by Baldwin. Although he had inherited a parliamentary majority he called an unnecessary election. The outcome was the unexpected defeat of Baldwin. That led to a year of political chaos but the following year Baldwin came back with a majority of over 200.
Elections come and go and, if (big if) Theresa May survives this debacle, she could live to fight and win another day. The last thing Britain’s economy needs is a period of further political turbulence and instability but it could well be what we will now face.
Meanwhile, by seeing off the predictions of electoral Armageddon, Jeremy Corbyn’s Parliamentary Labour Party will now find it extremely difficult to replace him. That means the Left will be able to entrench their control of the Labour Party.
The Conservative and Labour gains in Scotland, at the expense of the Scottish National Party, are the other big story of the night. This is also a vote against a second referendum – in this case, on Scottish Independence. People are voting to return to representative parliamentary democracy and against endless and divisive referenda.
Despite Theresa May’s failure to secure an overall majority it would be a mistake to read this General Election as a demand for a second referendum on European membership. Both the Conservatives and Labour Party said they would support Brexit and this enabled Labour to win back working class votes from UKIP, whose vote collapsed. Only 7% of the country voted for the Liberal Democrats – who made a second referendum their key election issue.
The post-election arithmetic will mean that the “hard” Brexit Conservatives, supported by the Northern Irish Unionists, will be in the driving seat for the negotiations with Europe while in the House of Commons there will be a majority for a more moderate position. It the moderates are to gain traction, it will require a more subtle and nuanced approach by Brussels, inventively looking for a more imaginative relationship than the in-out binary positions currently on the table.
In the face of divisions over Europe, and in the aftermath of terror attacks, knitting the country back together again should be Parliament’s greatest priority. However they voted, the electorate will not thank our political leaders and parties if they now descend into internecine warfare, interminable bickering, and point scoring……………..