With a close and controversial vote on Europe last night in the House of Commons, the absence of three Liberal Democrat MPs have raised more eyebrows than a complete back catalogue of Roger Moore appearances.
For Jo Swinson, her absence was sensible. She is on maternity leave. Parental leave exists precisely so that parents can take time being parents, and they, their children and our society are better for that. She was also ‘paired’ with another MP, which is the process by which two MPs who would otherwise have voted opposite ways both agree not to vote and so their absence makes no net difference to the result (normally – though this time was more complicated).
For Vince Cable, his absence was unfortunate: an absence at another meeting caused by a miscalculation about whether or not there would be a close vote last night. As Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael said in apologising for the mistake,
I was not expecting a close vote – up until 8pm, Labour were planning to abstain which would have meant the vote would be lost by hundreds. In fact several Labour MPs voted with the government- which is why they won. By the time it became apparent that the vote was going to be close – it was too late to get two of our MPs back in time to vote.
I’m taking responsibility and redoubling my efforts to stop Brexit.
That other MP mentioned in his statement was Tim Farron. But I suspect many (including myself) will class his absence slightly differently as in his case he was giving a talk titled “Illiberal truths” at Sherborne Abbey about his experiences as a Christian politician.
Previous examples of such comments have not exactly been happy and the official write-up of the event framed his talk as, “Tim Farron MP made the headlines during the 2017 general election campaign as leader of the Liberal Democrat party, although it was not, in fact, politics that generated the headlines but repeated attempts by the mainstream media to get him to express an opinion on whether gay sex was compatible with Christian faith.”
To his credit, Tim Farron has also apologised: “We clearly called it wrong, as did Labour. I take full responsibility for my part. The Tories don’t deserve any luck, I’m so sorry I inadvertently granted them some.”