Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How Tim Farron saying what I think worries me.

In the Guardian this weekend, Tim Farron responded to his critics, explaining his votes on gay marriage. This is what I asked him to do, and in regretting his abstention on the third reading of the equal marriage bill, he's moved closer to my position. Great! Unfortunately, the interview as a whole has somehow left me more skeptical than I started out.

Obviously if Tim is now pro-equal marriage (or always was) then that's great. But he must have known at the time that abstention would be perceived as opposition - and it bothers me that he isn't willing to defend this position. And he also fails to mention the vote against the programme motion - where he effectively voted against taking the legislation forward - which feels like dodging the issue.

Even more so because if the basis of his opposition really was to do with conscience clauses and free speech, it is possible to mound a reasonable defence of this position on liberal grounds. If Tim felt that the bill did not adequately protect the rights of one minority (very religious people) while enforcing the rights of another minority (same sex couples), then either voting against it or abstaining is the right thing to do.

If Tim really believes that this was the case, then he should be willing to defend his record. The fact that he now 'regrets' his position looks weak and flip floppy - and I can't help wondering if he regrets it on its own merits, or because its harming his leadership chances.

I'm starting to worry that Tim is too keen to agree with the activist base on everything - I'm not sure I can remember a time when he's taken a controversial position and disagreed with the activist base. This makes me concerned that I don't completely understand what he believes - and I'm keen to have a leader willing to set out his stall on key issues and justify them, even when he disagrees with me (ideally as long as he doesn't do it too often!).

His interview with Pink News, today, was better. Talking about trans issues (yes!) and how the equal marriage legislation was a missed opportunity to do lots of good things (yes!). They put to him most of the questions I would have done (go Pink News!) and made him answer them.

In response, he offers the kind of liberal justification I've wanted to see all along - that you have to protect the right of people to say offensive things. That part, I'm convinced by - but if he's got good reasons, then why has he changed his mind, and what to?

In fairness, there's lots of good stuff in there - not just the liberal justification for his voting record, but also on disestablishment of the Church of England and internationalism.

But overall, the interviews have given me an impression of a flip-flopper unwilling to defend his record. If you're explaining, you're losing, and once the public starts to see you as untrustworthy or weak, then you're basically toast (see: Clegg, Milliband). And if the Lib Dems aren't the party of equal rights, then what are we for?

I started out wanting to vote for Farron - but I'm starting to feel that his votes on gay rights could be as toxic as Lamb's vote for tuition fees.


  1. If you fail to amend a bill, then after that you vote on the bill as it stands.

    The fact that Farron failed to support the bill as it stood means that on balance he wasn't in favour of it.

    1. Legislation is not a simple process. Nor should it be. If you are faced with a bill that you broadly support, you can still try and amend it to make it better. And abstaining does not mean opposing. I'm gay, atheist and Liberal, and I'm perfectly comfortable with Tim's actions on the bill. As I see it, he knew perfectly well that it would pass - and yes that is a legitimate calculation for a legislator to make. So he abstained as a protest against the way the legislation was handled. As Laura says, he must have known how it would 'look' when he abstained, yet he did it anyway. Doesn't that say something about courage and convictions?
      His excellent interview today in Pink News, plus his *overall* voting record on LGBT+ issues (including his vote for EMA at 2nd reading) tells you what he needs to know about his views.
      Norman Lamb also has a very good record on these issues and others. Lets not get into a pointless debate about which of them is most pro-LGBT. They both are, and we should be proud of them both. The issues in this contest are broader, and more existential for the party. At this moment in time, we need a leader who can (a) inspire our base and (b) reach the wider electorate. That's what will get the party back into a position of influence so we can advance LGBT+ rights and other liberal issues.
      Of the two excellent candidates, that leader is Tim.