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Tim Farron And The Gay Issue

20/06/2017 11:58
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

So yet another twist in this extraordinary election is the resignation of Lib Dem leader Tim Farron. The blunt truth is that although he got more MPs elected, this was a very poor election for a party that went into the campaign with high hopes of kicking off a bounce-back from the disastrous wipe-out of a few years ago.

On paper, the election should have been perfect timing. The anti-Brexit voters should have swarmed to Lib Dem candidates as the only way to express their pro-European views. But instead, the party was squeezed out of the debate and its leader found himself the subject of endless questions about his views on gay rights.

I've never been comfortable with the idea of calling for a second referendum, personally. I voted to stay but I accept the result and want to make Brexit work. I think campaigning to say that you will have a second vote on the detail but will still vote against leaving is intellectually flawed.

In essence, how could Tim Farron say to the British public that he wanted everybody to see the details and then make up their minds, yet regardless of that outcome he would still vote against Brexit? It's true that the anti-Brexit vote helped the party win the Richmond by-election, but it was a flawed assumption that the anti-Brexit vote would go to the Lib Dems in a general election that in the end was not so focused on Brexit after all.

In fact, the campaign was more about people and was the most 'presidential' yet. Theresa May showed she lacked humour, charm and emotional intelligence, which was hardly a surprise for people who have seen her operate. I was elected MP the same year as her and found her solid, reliable and a safe pair of hands: great qualities, but not on the election trail.

I've also found Corbyn rather dull, but he's sincere and straightforward and this seemed to come across in the campaign. But it was Tim Farron's performance that was most disappointing. I remember him well from Parliament as his office was next to mine. Hard working, polite, a totally nice guy and able to make great off-the-cuff speeches.

It should have been his election to take by storm. Much as Nick Clegg emerged in 2010 as a hero, I expected Tim to create the same response. But the wheels came off in week one with his total mishandling of the gay sex issue.

Whilst I respect his religious views, I was astonished that he appeared to be saying that gay sex was a sin. Eventually he clarified his views, but clearly as his resignation speech shows they caused him personal issues. As a Liberal and a gay guy, I felt let down that my leader could not do a better job of handling such a fundamentally Liberal issue.

So where next? Much though I admire Vince Cable, I think his time has passed. Norman Lamb and Ed Dave are super guys - good brains and media-friendly - but I have come to the view that we need to take a risk, skip a generation and elect the first female leader to our party.

Jo Swinson should run and I hope the party can unite behind her. I think she is fresh, clever and principled and could capture the public mood. I also hope Tim finds peace in his own mind and he has certainly done the right thing to step back. To lead the Liberals you need to be comfortable with many views and opinions that sometimes challenge you personally, after all - that's the point of Liberalism.

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