How Lib Dems were hit by Far­ron’s stance on gay sex and abor­tion

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Heather Ste­wart Po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor

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.

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