Tim Farron. The current leader of the Liberal Democrats and the person who has called on us all to vote for him in the upcoming election. However, we are left to ask the question who is Tim Farron? Where does he come from? What are his opinions away from the propaganda and the spin? What does he actually believe in? What are his views on key issues?
In this series I will be analysing the three main party leaders from the three most important perspectives; what is their background and career path, what are their known personal beliefs and what is their voting record in the House of Commons. With this three pronged attack I hope to shed light on who it is we are voting for and hopefully make the choice clearer for any and all readers.
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Born in Preston Tim Farron was educated at state school before attending Newcastle University where he graduated with a BA in Politics in 1992. Farron states that he ‘found God’ and became a committed Evangelical Christian at age 18. In addition to his faith, Farron is also a vegetarian. During his studies Tim Farron was made President of the Newcastle Union Society and was subsequently elected to the National Union of Students’ National Executive.
After completing his studies he worked in Higher Education at both Lancaster University and St Martin’s College, Ambleside. He ran for MP in North West Durham in 1992, South Ribble in 1997, and Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2001, each time unsuccessfully. In 2005 he was elected MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale albeit by a narrow majority of just 267. His tenure as MP was astoundingly successful which was reflected in the 2010 election result in which his majority increased to 12,264.
During the leadership of Sir Menzies Campbell, Tim Farron was given the role of Private Secretary and later in 2007 he was made Liberal Democrat spokesman for Home Affairs. In 2008 he resigned from the Party’s front bench in response to their abstention from a vote on the EU Referendum though he did later return as the spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
In 2010 Farron won the election to succeed Baroness Scott as President of the Liberal Democrats, a position he held until 2014; shortly before he announced his bid to become leader of the party.
During this period he attracted widespread criticism for his support and signing of a letter condemning the Advertising Standards Agency’s decision putting a stop to the Christian Group ‘Healing on the Streets of Bath’ making explicit claims that prayer can heal as an alternative to medicine. He later admitted that he should not have signed the letter though it is noteworthy that he did not condemn the preachments of the farcical organisation but rather the wording of the letter which had demanded the ASA produce indisputable scientific evidence that faith healing did not work, a patently nonsensical and hypocritical statement.
Tim Farron won the 2015 Liberal Democrat Leadership Election garnering 56.5% of the vote and is now leading the party into its first General Election under his leadership.
The personal and political beliefs of Tim Farron require some deeper analysis as his positions are often unclear. In an interesting example, he voted in 2013 against the controversial ‘Bedroom Tax’ which cut housing benefit for social housing tenants by 14% for those deemed to have an extra bedroom and 25% for those with two or more spare bedrooms. Though the policy was marketed as a way of ensuring that people weren’t wasting rooms which could be given to low income families, in essence it meant that people with nowhere else to go (the social housing having been mostly sold off and not replaced by previous Conservative governments) were forced to take severe financial cuts with no option to mitigate them. Tim Farron went against then leader Nick Clegg and voted against this proposal. This positive move was then destroyed by his support of the continuation of the policy the following year despite acknowledging that it had caused ‘huge social problems’.
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On immigration Tim Farron is incredibly fair minded. He accepts that there needs to be an appropriate limit but not to the detriment of the nation as a whole. He is also not one to equivocate over the needs of immigrants, appropriately considering them as human beings not just numbers as shown in his support for the EU proposal for the United Kingdom to accept refugees from the Middle East. He called for the UK to take 60,000 non-EU refugees from these areas and upon meeting with resistance from the government accused them of cowardice and heartlessness over their refugee policy in 2016. He is a staunch advocate of the EU and has promised a second Referendum on EU membership should he be elected.
Tim Farron’s own views on homosexuality are somewhat complex. He has recently confirmed that he does not believe gay sex to be a sin and has pointed to his voting record to show his support of the LGBT community. However, though it is true that he voted in favour of allowing gay marriage in 2013 he also voted not to timetable the motion which would have made the process of legalisation much more problematic had his position been accepted by the majority of the Commons. Though he has confirmed that he does not believe that gay sex is a sin he has still not confirmed his view on homosexual people having previously linked his reticence to his Christian faith stating ‘to understand Christianity is to understand that we are all sinners’ thus bringing into question his actual personal view. This is an important distinction; for too long we have heard the hard line Christians state ‘we love the sinner but hate the sin’ as though a) sin exists as a concept and b) the two are independent entities. Though he has supported gay rights in the main it is important to be certain on his opinion on the issue. His voting record (as discussed below) does show that he supports the LGBT cause though there is the notable exception of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) of 2007 which he opposed despite it intending to impose a general restriction on businesses discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. This is a strange bill for him to have voted against and one which certainly casts doubts over his view on the place of LGBT people within society.
Farron is a champion of diversity and equality between sexes and races and has repeatedly campaigned for greater equality even pledging that 50% of seats will be contested by women and 10% by Black or Minority Ethnic candidates. He was also widely praised for the diversity in his appointments for party spokespeople with approximately 55% of them being women.
Tim Farron has shown himself throughout his career in politics to be a man whose views and policies are generally very fair minded. He sits to the left of centre on the political spectrum but some of his actions and statements have cast doubts over how far his Evangelical faith impacts on his decision making. How has this translated in the House of Commons? Well for that information we need to look at his voting record.
The motions which Tim Farron has voted in favour of include gay marriage (2013), plans to save the steel industry (2016), air strikes in Iraq and Syria (2014, 2015), protection of the residence rights of EU citizens and family members lawfully resident in the UK post-Brexit (2017), keeping the ‘Bedroom Tax’ (2014), capping working age benefits and tax credits at 1% rather than allowing them to rise in line with prices (2013), a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund 25,000 affordable homes (2012), a series of measures designed to tackle tax avoidance and evasion (2016), NHS reforms including giving more power to GPs to commission services (2012), reducing the voting age to 16 (2015), removal of hereditary peers from the House of Lords (2007) and the establishment of a Green Investment Bank (2012)
The motions which Farron has voted against include making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste (2013), the Equality Act (Sexual Orintation) regulations which for the first time imposed a general restriction on businesses discriminating against people on the grounds of sexual orientation (2007), the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 (2016), replacing Trident (2007, 2016), the ‘Bedroom Tax’ (2013), giving the Prime Minister the authority to trigger Article 50 (2017), allowing an exception for those with cancer diagnosis or undergoing cancer treatment from the 365 day limit on receiving contribution based Employment and Support Allowance (2012), reducing the household benefit cap (2015), reductions in benefits for disabled and ill claimants who are deemed capable of work (2016), creating more apprenticeships (2011), an impact assessment of disability and benefit changes (2012), raising tuition fees to £9000 (2010), the ‘Snoopers Charter’ (2016) and banning letting agents fees and action on excessive rent rises during longer tenancies (2014).
In conclusion, Tim Farron can be considered to be a stereotypical Liberal Democrat. He believes in a more free and tolerant society in the main and has significant interests in environmental and equality issues. If there is one issue that will hold him back it will be around LGBT rights though as stated previously his voting record on that front could be seen as fairly conclusive. Farron is a man of principle and someone who seems to take great care in the majority of his decisions. There is a chance that he could end up in Coalition, albeit a slim chance, so to gain the trust of the public he does need to clarify some of his personal positions.