Political

Tim Farron steps down as Liberal Democrat leader

News just out: Tim Farron is stepping down as leader of the Liberal Democrats. His full message is below, the crux of which is:

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.

Sad news, and, whether you think Tim’s resignation was necessary or not, he should be given credit for making a very difficult decision with the best interests of the party at heart.

Many would have hoped that by the next general election he would have found a way to deal with questions about his faith which garnered a better response from the media, and it’s to his credit that he’s faced up to that rather than hoped that such questions wouldn’t arise again. Being leader at the same time as fighting a very marginal constituency would have also been a significant burden.

My own fear was that the combination of those two issues, coming after his mixed polling results this time round, would have made him being a successful leader at the next election impossible, but it is possible his talents would have risen to that. We’ll now never know.

I still remember well the occasion when the two of us gave essentially the same speech a few minutes apart at a Liberal Democrat conference. Mine was, I thought, one of my better conference speeches, but it was as nothing compared to the skill and verve with which Tim fashioned a passionate, moving speech out of a similar set of points.

It was that sort of class which resulted in a new phenomenon at Lib Dem conferences during his leader speeches – regular mid-speech standing ovations, common in other parties but previously just about unknown in the Liberal Democrats.

That was just one example of how often and how well he motivated activists, members and supporters. I’m sure Tim will still have a great role to play in the promotion of Liberal Democracy.

The Federal Board will shortly be setting the timetable for the leadership election. I’d expect that it will run over the summer with a new leader in place for the party’s autumn conference, but that has not yet been decided. The contest will be done by an all-member postal ballot.

Here’s his resignation statement in full:

This last two years have seen the Liberal Democrats recover since the devastation of the 2015 election. 

That recovery was never inevitable but we have seen the doubling of our party membership, growth in council elections, our first parliamentary by-election win for more than a decade, and most recently our growth at the 2017 general election.

Most importantly the Liberal Democrats have established ourselves with a significant and distinctive role – passionate about Europe, free trade, strong well-funded public services underpinned by a growing market economy.

No one else occupies that space.  Against all the odds, the Liberal Democrats matter again.

We can be proud of the progress we have made together, although there is much more we need to do.

From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith.  I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience.  Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.

At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again – asked about matters to do with my faith.  I felt guilty that this focus was distracting attention from our campaign, obscuring our message.

Journalists have every right to ask what they see fit.  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.

A better, wiser person than me may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to have remained faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment.

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.

I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.

There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.

Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.

In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.

That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

I intend to serve until the parliamentary recess begins next month, at which point there will be a leadership election according to the party’s rules.

This is a historic time in British politics. What happens in the next months and years will shape our country for generations.

My successor will inherit a party that is needed now more than ever before. Our future as an open, tolerant and united country is at stake.

The cause of British liberalism has never been needed more. People who will fight for a Britain that is confident, generous and compassionate are needed more than ever before.

That is the challenge our party and my successor faces and the opportunity I am certain that they will rise to.

I want to say one more thing: I joined our party when I was 16, it is in my blood, I love our history, our people, I thoroughly love my party.

Imagine how proud I am to lead this party.  And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour.

In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something ‘so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all’.

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