Tim Farron has committed another U-turn over whether he believes gay sex to be a sin. And Liberal Democrat activist and LGBT right campaigner Mathew Hulbert thinks it might be the end of his political career.
Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa.
Sometimes, in political commentary as in politics and indeed life itself, when you get something wrong you should hold your hands up and admit it.
And, boy, did I get it wrong about Tim Farron.
Following last year’s general election and his sudden resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats, I wrote a big piece in these pages condemning the media for having ‘bullied’ him during the campaign and stating that he’d answered the question about whether he thought gay sex was ‘a sin’ and that he’d been clear that he didn’t.
Well, as we know now, he was lying through his teeth.
Last week he told Premier Christian Radio: ‘The bottom line is, of course, I did (feel pressured) and there are things – including that – that I said that I regret.’
He went on: ‘All they (the media) wanted to do is talk about my Christian beliefs and what they actually meant.
‘Foolishly and wrongly, (I) attempted to push it away by giving an answer that, frankly, was not right.’
In other words, he does believe gay sex is a sin.
To hear that a liberal – indeed a former liberal leader – holds such outdated, illiberal views is hugely shocking and disappointing.
The headline of that article in these pages last year was ‘Here lies the political career of Tim Farron. Because he couldn’t lie’.
We now know, whether under pressure from others or not, he was prepared to do exactly that… to say he didn’t believe something which, actually, he clearly did and does.
In an editorial that went alongside that piece, the Editor of this paper wrote ‘Tim Farron didn’t fit because cynical duplicity and message-making has become the stock in trade of your average British politician.
‘The media – broadcast media in particular with their obsession for the ‘gotcha moment’ as Mathew Hulbert calls it in his defence of Farron – found it all too easy to pursue him for a suspected hidden agenda.
‘The truth was he didn’t hide it well enough. Honest, direct, sincere, open, well-meaning and selfless. No wonder they eventually kicked the poor bugger out.’
The truth is that when, eventually, he did repeatedly deny that he believed gay sex was a sin – a denial which so many of his supporters were so relieved to hear – that he was indeed being cynical and duplicitous; telling the media and the people what he thought we wanted to hear, rather than his real views.
That, I argue, is the worst kind of political cynicism and the kind of thing that leads voters to turn to the political extremes and away from the liberal centre.
In his resignation statement in Farron said: ‘The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.’
He continued: ‘To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.’
In a speech later last year, it being seemingly impossible for him to cease speaking about his evangelical Christianity, he said liberalism had ‘eaten itself’ and condemned those who he called only ‘cultural Christians’.
What untrammelled arrogance.
What he’s basically saying is that those of us, like me, who – as a gay man and a liberally-minded Christian – see no contradiction whatsoever in my faith and my liberalism, are somehow not ‘proper’ Christians.
That to be a ‘proper’ Christian, you have to hold socially conservative views on issues such as homosexuality and abortion.
I reject such a notion wholeheartedly.
But here we come to, I believe, the real truth about Farron.
I believe he’s long since had an internal battle going on, in his heart and mind, behind his political liberalism and his social conservatism.
And, it would appear, the latter is winning.
This, would he but recognise it, is a tragedy for him personally, for our party, and for our entire nation.
Because that internal fight has, in the end, robbed our country of someone who – bar for that – could have been a truly great leader.
Given his background, having grown up poor to a single mother in Northern England, he could have spoken with sincerity and passion about poverty, about justice, about the need to help and give voice to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our nation.
He could have focused, as I do, on a Christianity of love, which doesn’t walk by on the other side of the road when someone needs our help, which values and celebrates diversity and knows that we are all made in God’s image and with all the wonderful traits that make us unique.
But, even though I believe he too cherished many of these both liberal and Christian values, Farron didn’t talk about them nearly enough.
No, for him, it seems, what was important was fighting a cultural war against modernity.
For the vast majority of people in Britain, in our increasingly secular society, have no problem at all in recognising that love is love, whether between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man.
And that, actually, what consenting adults do in private is nobody else’s business anyway.
That Farron thinks it is, that he thinks it’s his place to pontificate and tell us he believes a certain act is sinful, shows, I believe, how far removed he is from the liberal mainstream.
It’s very sad for me to say this, given that I think, at heart, Farron is a good man who cares deeply for others, but his position as a Lib Dem spokesman and even as an MP is increasingly untenable.
I believe this is the start of the last chapter of his political career.
And the only person to blame for that is himself.
Mathew Hulbert is an LGBT rights campaigner and a former Liberal Democrat councillor in Leicestershire.