Farron quits as Lib Dem leader over clash between faith and politics

14 Jun

Media captionTim Farron: Living as a Christian and being a political leader ‘has felt impossible’

Tim Farron has said he is to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats, less than a week after the election.

In a statement, he said he was “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader”.

He said he should have dealt “more wisely” with questions relating to his faith during the election campaign, including his views on gay sex.

He insisted he had taken the decision voluntarily and retained the support of his party.

He will remain in place while an election is held to choose his successor.

Possible candidates to succeed Mr Farron include Norman Lamb, who lost a leadership contest to him two years ago, former business secretary Sir Vince Cable and ex-minister Jo Swinson.

In a hastily-arranged statement, and surrounded by his close colleagues, Mr Farron said he had been “proud” to lead the party for two years.

But he said he could no longer reconcile his strong Christian faith with his responsibilities as leader of a liberal party.

“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 said.

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

“To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me.”

He said he was passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believed differently to him, but said he had been the “subject of suspicion” because of his own beliefs.

While questions about his faith were legitimate, he said they “distracted” from the party’s election campaign.

Earlier on Wednesday, shadow home affairs spokesman Lord Paddick himself quit, citing concerns about Mr Farron’s “views on various issues”.

Mr Farron succeeded Nick Clegg in 2015 after the party’s disastrous election result, in which it lost nearly 50 seats.

Having not served in the coalition government, he positioned himself to the left of Mr Clegg and sought to rebuild the party at grassroots level.

The party increased its tally of seats from eight to 12 at last week’s election, but its vote share fell from 7.9% to 7.4%.

They were hoping to make significant headway on the back of a pledge to hold a second EU referendum.

Despite winning back seats in the south of England lost in 2015, and making gains in Scotland, the party’s national performance was patchy.

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PA

Image caption

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lost his seat in 2017

It lost its last remaining seat in Wales, Mr Clegg was defeated in Sheffield, and 375 of the party’s candidates lost their deposits after getting less than 5% of the vote.

Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said Mr Farron had been a “dynamic and inspirational” leader who helped the party bounce back from the “dark days” after the 2015 election.

“I believe he still has a big role to play in British politics,” Mr Rennie added.

But former Lib Dem official Miranda Green criticised Mr Farron for making his statement on the same day as the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in London, in which at least 12 people have died.

She said the timing showed the Lib Dem leader was “myopic and self-obsessed”.

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