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14 June 2017

Why Tim Farron had to go

The leader blamed the focus on his faith, but political opponents said that results doomed the Liberal Democrat leader.

By Stephen Bush

Tim Farron has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, saying that he found it impossible to reconcile his Christian faith with leading the party, and hours after Brian Paddick, his shadow home secretary, quit his post citing his disagreement with Farron over homosexuality and abortion.

However, officials close to the leader denied that resignation had been forced.  Farron had experienced a bruising campaign in which he faced repeated questions over his faith and his voting record.

But senior Liberal Democrats said that it was results, rather than his faith, that mean a change was necessary. Although the Liberal Democrats increased their parliamentary strength from eight in 2015 to 12 seats on 8 June, they had a bruising night in England and Wales. Of the nine seats they held on dissolution, five were lost, and the party polled lower than it did after five years of Coalition.

Farron’s difficulties answering question on his faith contributed to his poor campaign, which was flattered by gains north of the border, according to critics. That focus groups by Edelman for the Huffington Post showed that voters preferred Nick Clegg to Farron increased the pressure on the embattled leader. Farron’s habit of abstaining on LGBT votes and his refusal to say that homosexuality was not a sin damaged the party among its LGBT core vote, senior sources alleged.

But supporters of the leader pointed to his increase in the size of the parliamentary party as validation for his leadership and the choice to focus heavily on the Remain vote. One MP said that the decision was “difficult but right”.

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 Jo Swinson, who retook her East Dunbartonshire seat, is expected to face Vince Cable, who retook his Twickenham seat, in a battle for the leadership.

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