I wonder who will win the battle for Tim Farron’s soul — the Guardianistas or God? This is assuming that God gives a monkey’s either way. I know that He is supposed to care very deeply about all of our souls, but this is the leader of the Liberal Democrats we’re talking about. ‘Eight seats? Eight seats? You want I should care about someone with just eight seats? Farron, schmarron.’ (Yes, I know, this is God as a slightly camp New York Jew. Apologies to all of those possibly offended.)
Either way, my money’s on the liberal lefties. God just does not have the heft these days: he’s too tolerant, that’s the problem. He has mellowed since running amok in the Old Testament and rarely gets around to any judicious smiting. He seems content just to let things lie. Say something which might offend God and you’ll probably be OK until your own Day of Judgment, when you will be politely turned away from heaven and re-directed towards a place the angels on the door refer to, sniggeringly, as ‘Tower Hamlets’. However, say something with which the liberals might take issue and you will rapidly come to understand the meaning of the word ‘smite’. Indeed, you don’t actually have to say anything. You could just not say something — and, for sure, the smiting will just as quickly begin.
Mr Farron is a Christian of evangelical persuasion. The battleground for his soul — the Belgium of this particular personal conflict — is gay rights. No sooner had Farron won his party’s leadership election, presumably held in a photo booth at King’s Cross station, than the bien-pensants were on his case. Channel 4 News was first, with the vacuous presenter Kathy Newman going at him hammer and tongs. ‘Never mind this guff about government surveillance and benefit cuts, tell us what you think about the poofs, you north-country weasel.’ I para-phrase, of course: that was the gist. Three times she asked him if he thought homosexuality was a sin and thrice he declined to answer, averring instead that we are all sinners in a very real sense, don’t you think, Kathy, m’kay?
This is what passes in Mr Farron’s mind for triangulation, I think, or maybe having your cake and eating it. A bad call, surely — for it left the shrill mentals of the liberal left convinced nonetheless that Farron couldn’t abide the homos. Sky News then got in on the act, while Mr Farron was trying desperately to articulate party policy about something which had nothing to do with lube and sodomy. (Welfare reform, I think.) ‘Never mind that! Tell us what you’d do with the queers!’ And the howl-round became a fugue. The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who is himself gay, described Mr Farron’s position as ‘illiberal’. The Guardian and the internet went into overdrive. And I will bet that every time poor Farron does an interview he’ll be harangued about his private beliefs relating to an issue of no consequence whatsoever to his leadership of the party. An issue — like race — about which the liberal left has a weird, obsessive, psychosis.
Farron is to blame for not having said: ‘Yes, I think it is a sin.’ And then maybe adding the bit about us all being sinners so what does it matter? Because I assume that is what he thinks — surely if he had thought homosexuality wasn’t a sin he’d have been more than happy to say so? But this is the battleground for his soul and God is already several wickets down and they haven’t brought the drinks out yet. Farron has been equivocal about gay marriage, either abstaining when the matter has been before parliament or voting in favour. He is torn between adhering to his deeply held beliefs and avoiding pissing off his party members, the Grauniad, Kathy Newman and the leftie cyberjabberati. My guess is that, sad to say, he will soon jettison all those problematic bits of his Christianity, the bits that don’t fit in with the mindset of secular liberal authoritarians. I hope I’m wrong about this.
Nick Cohen rightly pointed out that this is what happens when a party elects as a leader someone who comes a) from the north of the country and b) didn’t do PPE at Oxford and c) has a life beyond politics. And — I might add — was educated at a state school and therefore hails from a not especially privileged background. In other words, a fairly normal sort of person. The sort of person that we wished we saw more of in politics. This, I suppose, is why we don’t see more of them: the tiny liberal elite do not approve of their views.
Whether or not homosexuality is a sin is, pragmatically, not a matter of fact, but a matter of evenly contested dispute. Just two years ago, in the 2013 British Attitudes Survey, only 47 per cent of the UK population thought that homosexuality was ‘not wrong at all’. The rest thought it was either a bit wrong or horribly wrong. The same survey from 2007 showed a majority of people being opposed to lesbians being allowed to adopt children, and close to a split on whether same-sex marriages should be allowed.
It is true that the tide has been turning in the past 30 years; this is either because we have become more enlightened and progressive, or because we have a new establishment which will not tolerate dissent on this issue (as on many others). But a nagging doubt remains in the minds of at least half of the population — and tides, by their nature, have a habit of turning back again. I think it is valuable to have at least one politician out of 650 who shares the doubts of about half the population. To pillory a man for holding those views seems to me, Mr Bradshaw, rather illiberal.