Tim Farron or a fish finger? According to various online polls, most reckon the latter would make a more effective leader of the Liberal Democrats. Okay, so it’s one of those Twitter campaigns that serve as a silly distraction from doom ‘n’ gloom, and to give Farron credit he has entered into the spirit of the joke rather than pretending he knows nothing about it. Anyway, a fish finger couldn’t have been elected Lib Dem leader after the last General Election on account of just eight remaining MPs to choose from (with Nick Clegg excluded from the list), none of whom owed their existence to Captain Birdseye.
Farron was a regular on ‘Question Time’ prior to his leadership elevation, so was a relatively familiar face; but the dearth of names to select as Clegg’s successor meant it was inevitable whoever got the gig was destined to have their election downgraded. In some respects, Farron has made a shrewd move in allying himself and his party with the anti-Brexit brigade; after being blamed for the worst crimes of the Coalition, the Lib Dems needed a new focus and seized upon the Referendum result as a cause. It could well have won them recruits too young to recall their U-turn on tuition fees as well as disillusioned Remainers, and with Labour’s stance on the subject still somewhat murky, Farron has promoted the Lib Dems as a party whose position on the issue that will undoubtedly dominate this General Election is crystal clear.
Not that Brexit is the issue Tim Farron has been quizzed on much so far when cornered by interviewers. They want to know if he thinks gay sex is a sin. He’s a Christian, you see, so surely an act of passion between two chaps must offend his faith, no? I wonder if anyone has dared to put the same question to, say, Sadiq Khan. The Mayor of London is a Muslim, after all, and the Koran apparently isn’t mad keen on that sort of intimacy. Mind you, is any religious manual penned thousands of years ago mad keen on it? The core values of any religion seem similar on paper, but the ambiguity of the text in all of them can be open to interpretation and seized upon by both advocates and opponents as to why living one’s life by its doctrines is either a good or bad idea.
There can be ‘selective faith’, of course, which essentially means a pick ‘n’ mix of all the bits in one’s chosen Holy Book which appeal and conveniently disregarding the bits you don’t like. I suppose it makes sense to a degree if you’re determined to follow a faith and the archaic nature of some of its specifications makes them no longer relevant. Islamic Fundamentalists tend to do this the wrong way round by focusing on all the bits most would regard as utterly irrelevant to the world after around the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Similarly, Christian Fundamentalists in the American Bible Belt have a habit of honing in on all those bits as well. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone who is a Muslim or a Christian follows suit.
Our Glorious Leader herself is, as we all know, the daughter of a vicar and she remains a practising Christian; will the gay sex question be put to her during the campaign? Robert Peston hinted as much when appearing on this week’s ‘Have I Got News for You’, so we shall see. That Farron has been singled out more than other prominent God-botherers for his views on personal morality seems strange; his voting record on equality legislation is largely commendable, more so than many of his fellow Parliamentarians who have been spared the kind of grilling Farron has received of late. Then again, I suppose the media needs an angle, and today’s media-savvy politicians should at least anticipate it.
Thankfully, none in 2017 (bar perhaps the worst fruitcake in the UKIP bakery) would come out with a comment akin to the one uttered by the late Tory buffoon Sir Gerald Nabarro on ‘Any Questions’ way back in 1963 – ‘How would you feel if your daughter wanted to marry a big buck nigger with the prospect of coffee-coloured grandchildren?’ Even at the time, the comment was deemed unpleasant enough to be edited out of the programme’s repeat broadcast a few days later, though it didn’t damage Nabarro’s career thereafter as it would totally destroy it today.
However, the voluntary imposition of a morality consensus upon all public figures isn’t necessarily a hallmark of progress in that some may well say one thing in public and another in private. I’ve no idea if Tim Farron regards gay sex as abhorrent when he ponders on the topic behind closed doors or if he wrestles with his Christian conscience over the issue; but the likelihood that some have both a public and a private opinion on such a subject is, I would imagine, fairly high. In a way, I would rather honesty came into it a little more, though the awareness of how the wrong kind of honesty can wreck a career today no doubt limits a public figure’s ability to express it.
Actually, an out-and-out proud bigot or racist is more honest than someone who masks their prejudices in the mores of the moment – the kind of PC preacher who ticks all the right minority boxes until their daughter engages in the scenario clumsily referred to by Sir Gerald Nabarro over fifty years ago. The dishonesty of those who don’t necessarily practice in private what they preach in public is worse. The reluctance to question and condemn certain cultural differences – FGM being an extreme example and one with an appalling lack of criminal convictions for its practitioners – isn’t helping anyone, let alone the concept of a harmonious society that lives by certain shared values.
For all the rights and wrongs of the Raj, the British in India did at least outlaw traditions like widows being burned alive on their dead husband’s funeral pyres; and to avoid ‘sensitive issues’ today because they’re exclusive to minorities whilst simultaneously thinking it okay to constantly challenge Tim Farron on one topic because he’s a white heterosexual Brit following what David Cameron reminded us was ‘the national faith’ stinks of double standards.
© The Editor