Melanie McDonagh

Is Tim Farron prepared to defend any of his beliefs?

Is Tim Farron prepared to defend any of his beliefs?
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Are there any matters of principle, do you reckon, that Tim Farron isn’t prepared to give up on under pressure from a television journalist? After caving under repeated questioning from Channel 4’s Cathy Newman (how brave, Cathy!) to declare that he does not, in fact, consider homosexual acts to be sinful, he’s now had to conform again, this time on abortion. In an interview with ITV, he said he strongly believed that 'when procedures takes place, it should be safe and it should be legal,' and supported the law as it stands. Pressed on his personal view, he said: 'Again, what one believes in one’s personal private faith is just that.' A spokesman has also made clear that Farron supports a woman’s right to abortion.

What’s monstrous of course is that he’s being subjected to this kind of interrogation; it’s a kind of field sport for interviewers to torment Tim Farron about faith and morals, a bit like grilling Labour frontbenchers about the cost of their manifesto commitments. What fun to watch him squirm, and get a paid-up working-class Christian to conform to the standard secularist take on these things. But he doesn’t put up much of a fight, does he? He wouldn’t do terribly well, I reckon, if he was one of those Middle Eastern Christians being tormented by IS, or a sixteenth-century Catholic being asked to declare that Henry VIII is in fact head of the church.

Which is a pity, because he once had a perfectly coherent take on abortion, viz, that it is wrong in principle but can’t be done away with overnight. In an interview with the Salvation Army journal, War Cry, back in 2007, he said: 'Take the issue of abortion. Personally I wish I could argue it away. Abortion is wrong. Society has to climb down from the position that says there is nothing objectionable about abortion before a certain time. If abortion is wrong, it is wrong at any time.'

However, he also argued against abortion being 'abolished tomorrow', saying that 'Women would still want abortions and they’d have them illegally. So a complete ban on abortion would not achieve what I want. The reality is that abortion is too widely available. There needs to be tighter restrictions. The challenge to Christians is to come up with realistic alternative strategies.'

That strikes me as a decent and moral take on the thing: a declaration that abortion is wrong, because it destroys a human life, qualified by the recognition that criminalising it outright would be impractical. He could have said all that in his ITV interview but he didn’t. After the whole homosexuality and sin business, he plainly didn’t have the stomach to say flatly that 'abortion is wrong'. He didn’t even have the gumption to acknowledge the substance of the interview, denying that he even remembered the magazine. I suppose it was ten years ago and a lot has happened since, but it’s a bit of a hostage to fortune, as it turned out when the Guardian dug up the interview and confronted him with it.

So now we have the painful spectacle of Tim Farron again being obliged to conform to the point of view of the bloody Guardian on these things. The really outrageous thing about this is that a political leader is now not allowed to think or say that he thinks abortion is wrong, any more than he is allowed to have views on homosexual acts. That’s a terrifying imposition of conformity on an issue that is a matter of conscience; a friend describes it as the contemporary equivalent of the Test Acts. But the rapidity with which Tim collapses under pressure is a bit dispiriting, isn’t it?