‘In the end, the Labour party could cease to represent labour. Stranger historic ironies have happened than that.’ So predicted Enoch Powell in 1968, a time when Harold Wilson’s party had just begun to introduce right-on luvvie liberalism alongside its rapidly dating economic socialism. Fast-forward half a century and YouGov now says age is a more reliable indicator of whether a person will vote Labour than class. In fact, if anything, you’re more likely to vote Tory these days if you’re a low-skilled or unskilled worker.
So it was probably never much of a stretch to ponder, at the Liberal Democrats’ birth in 1988, whether there could come a time when they would cease to be either liberal or democratic. If they ever were, their cover was blown on the democracy bit following a referendum they sought to deny the British people, and the result of which they vowed to overturn. On the liberal bit, they finally broke ranks in their disgraceful treatment of their former leader and evangelical Christian, Tim Farron. Hounded out of his position for failing to have the ‘correct’ opinions on abortion (which is always subject to a free vote in Parliament for the reason it is a matter of conscious which cuts across party lines) and the morality of homosexual relations (an issue unlikely ever again to grace the pages of Hansard and therefore an entirely private affair), his colleagues have shamed a party once known almost exclusively for its radical heterodoxy.
Lord Paddick, as it turned out, was not even the worst of them when, in a manner reminiscent of the innuendo of Victorian prejudice, he stuck the knife in by resigning as the party’s home affairs spokesman, citing concerns about Farron’s ‘views on various issues that were highlighted’ during the general election. No, the worst came from David Laws, a man I had always had a great deal of time for due to his classical liberalism and political bravery – most notably in calling for the NHS to be replaced by a private insurance system in the party’s fabled Orange Book. But Laws’ reaction to Farron’s resignation, which seemed to be said exclusively ‘as a gay man’, was devoid of any such liberalism. ‘Tim has propagated the dangerous myth,’ he said, ‘that our society can respect and embrace people in same-sex relationships, while believing their activities and character to be in some way immoral.’
I picked up this quote from a piece in The Times which was headlined ‘Farron was prejudiced and illiberal, says gay Lib Dem’. I don’t know whether Laws actually spoke the words in the headline, as they didn’t appear to be in the article, but what strikes me is that ‘prejudiced’ and ‘illiberal’ describe pretty well what he did say. In fact, the quote above explicitly rejects the second word of the party’s latest catchline – ‘Open, Tolerant and United’. Tolerance, if it means anything at all anymore, means just what Laws condemned; the ability to ‘respect and embrace’ people with which you have profound differences. And that’s a beautiful thing. It means you don’t have to agree with everyone – you don’t even have to like everyone – but you treat each other with respect regardless. This has essentially defined English liberalism for hundreds of years and is a modern British virtue if ever there was one.
How sad that ‘tolerance’ now means compelling people to agree on liberal dogma as the only morality. The appalling treatment of the Democratic Unionist Party since its MPs emerged as likely props to a Conservative minority government is another timely case in point, particularly regarding the party’s policies on abortion and same-sex marriage. Almost everywhere in the media, these positions were painted as somehow beyond the pale, regardless of the fact the DUP’s policies represent many voters in a highly religious region of the United Kingdom (illustrated by the fact Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland, the Social Democratic & Labour Party, takes an even more stringent view on abortion than the DUP), or that opposition to what pro-life activists see as the wholesale murder of defenceless children is a legitimate political opinion.
There is also the insidious inference that politicians, of all people, cannot distinguish or in any way separate their personal beliefs from their politics. That Tim Farron cannot consider homosexual relations as a sin and vote for same-sex marriage. Even though he did. That men like Ron Paul in the United States and recently-appointed Brexit minister Steve Baker here at home cannot hold robust Evangelical Baptist beliefs and be leaders of a libertarian world view which essentially exists to leave people alone, whatever their lifestyle, orientation, or beliefs. Such two-dimensional thinking ought to be the preserve of Corbynista children on Twitter, not seasoned politicians.
Bizarrely, though, Farron reflected upon his political defenestration by taking aim at the ills of society. ‘I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in,’ he said, with his permanent ‘kicked puppy’ expression somehow turning even more kicked. ‘In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.’ I don’t think your average man on the street gives a damn, to be honest. The intolerant, illiberal, culprits are Farron’s fellow travellers in ‘progressive’ politics and the media. That he will probably never see that is perhaps saddest of all.
Paul is Creative Editor for Conservatives for Liberty. Follow him on Twitter: @Whiggery
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty