How Lib Dems were hit by Farron’s stance on gay sex and abortion
The full extent of senior Liberal Democrats’ exasperation with their former leader Tim Farron’s handling of questions about homosexuality and abortion will be revealed in a new book about last year’s general election.
Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh’s The British General Election of 2017, the latest in a long-running series, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan on 27 September.
It details the meltdown at Lib Dem HQ when the party’s 2017 campaign – meant to be about blocking Brexit – became hijacked by the personal views of Farron, a committed Christian who resigned after the election, saying he had struggled to reconcile politics with “remaining faithful to Christ”.
Extracts from the book released to the Guardian, as Lib Dems gather in Brighton today for their annual conference, recall Farron clashing with advisers over the issue of abortion as they prepped him for a TV debate.
“Farron was asked a question about whether abortion was morally wrong, at which point he started to equivocate. The former Clegg adviser James McGrory was playing Paul Nuttall [then leader of Ukip] … but at this point, he broke out of character and exploded: ‘For fuck’s sake, you just say no – it’s not fucking wrong.’”
On homosexuality, advisers repeatedly tried to “come up with forms of words that he would be willing to say and which would resolve the issue”, Cowley and Kavanagh write, “only for Farron to change his mind” – usually after attending his evangelical church.
“He’d travel back to Westmorland, where things were not going well, and he’d go to church and he’d realise how much they mattered to him, and how much it mattered to them, and he’d come back down to London on Monday and everything we thought we’d agreed would have unravelled,” one told the authors.
Farron had hoped Labour’s decision to accept the result of the EU referendum, with Jeremy Corbyn whipping his MPs to back article 50, would let the Lib Dems surge ahead in the polls – and perhaps even to “do a [Justin] Trudeau” and leapfrog the opposition.
But by the closing stage of the campaign, “the only thing that got mentioned [by voters] was homosexuality”, an organiser told the authors. “People said: ‘That doesn’t sound very liberal,’ and you wanted to scream.”
Ultimately, the Lib Dems returned 12 MPs – just two more than before – though gained some constituencies.