I write this more in sorrow than in anger, but it appears I was right. Five days ago I wrote on my personal blog about the Lib Dem party constitution requiring a leadership election within a year of a general election, and how that was probably going to be used by various anti-Tim Farron factions in the party to get rid of him. I admit, I didn’t predict him going of his own accord. The other thing I didn’t predict was the content of his resignation speech.
It was awful. Pious, self-pitying, upsetting to all three of the overlapping circles in the Venn diagram of liberals, Christians, and LGBT+ people, and semantically dubious to boot. I genuinely do not know what he was thinking, other than (I suspect) “I am knackered after a bruising election campaign in which I came within 500 votes of doubling our seats”. Many LGBT+ people are horrified that the speech confirmed all their worst fears about “what Tim really thinks”. LGBT+ Christians are horrified that he has posited a basic incompatibility between their religion and their sexuality. Liberals are horrified that he said that he had to choose between liberalism and Christianity, when one of our founding principles is freedom of religion.
I really wish he hadn’t made that speech. Despite everything, and whatever his private views, I am extremely grateful, as chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems, to Farron for all the work he has done for gender and sexual equality. That work has not just been for the L&G, but the B&T, and the other letters of the alphabet soup of sexual and gender identity too. He has done a lot, and proactively, both as party president and leader. We all know his voting record, because it has been scrutinised extensively in recent weeks. What most outside the party don’t know is the stuff he did within the party. When a decision taken by HQ caused huge problems for trans members, he listened to LGBT+ Lib Dems about it and then he went down to HQ, batted for us, and sorted it out. When we passed our conference motion on trans and intersex rights in 2015, he was in the front row of the auditorium, holding his voting pass high in favour. As prominent trans activist Sarah Brown says: “The Tim I know travelled the length of the country to knock on doors for a trans candidate, while Theresa May refers to us as ‘LGB what’s the rest?’ and allies with the homophobic Democratic Unionist Party.”
I have some sympathy for the argument that when the sitting parliament is going to feature a deal between the DUP and the Tories, we need a leader who is unimpeachable on LGBT+ rights, and Farron is not unimpeachable. As an atheist I really, genuinely, do not care if someone think I am going to hell for being bisexual. I don’t think I will, and there’s no point in arguing about it – I won’t find out who’s right till I die anyway. However, I do understand that others feel otherwise, and that it’s not really a desirable attribute for a leader of a liberal party to have.
In many ways, Farron only has himself to blame for this whole situation. He had two years between the two interviews with Cathy Newman to come up with a better answer to The Sin Question, and he didn’t do it. Perhaps if he’d said from the start “yes, gay sex is a sin, but so is pretty much any other form of sex, eating chocolate, going to bed late, and having tattoos”, people might have been more forgiving. His resignation statement made it sound like he was lying when he eventually, reluctantly, said that he does not believe that gay sex is a sin; and accordingly people are now upset because they think he lied.
That extraordinarily ill-judged resignation speech, which poured petrol on the flaming tempers of his detractors, made me wish for the fabled desk made of human hands so that I could headdesk and facepalm at the same time. Even so, he’ll still be first on the invite list for my big fat poly wedding when it happens, and I know and trust he will vote for the legislation that will make it possible, if and when it comes before the house.
I’ll miss you, Tim, and I think our next leader has a lot to live up to.
Jennie Rigg is acting chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems. She blogs here.