The 'issue' of Tim Farrons Christian faith has become one of the key debates of the Libdem leadership campaign. We've had party leaders before who've professed some kind of faith, quite a few in fact (Thatcher, Blair, Brown, Cameron) but none as boldly or plainly as Farron.
2 of Norman Lambs team have got into trouble for asking leading questions of Libdem members. They rang to quiz members on what they thought of Farrons views on abortion and gay marriage, whilst asking different questions about Lamb. One Libdem commented:
I was one of those members called and asked about my opinion on Tim Farron. I knew all the background about his faith etc so realised what was going on with the loaded questions etc
It sounds like they were doing this without Norman Lambs authorisation, but the issue hasn't gone away. It was raised at a 5 live phone in this week (from just after 20m in here), and took up a large chunk of the debate. Farron claimed that it was his Christian faith that lay behind the 'push polling' during the debate, and Victoria Derbyshire followed this up by quizzing Farron about his faith, and his views on abortion and sex education. It was good to see Farron standing up for his position on abortion: "I'm not saying it should be illegal, but it is always a tragedy... when anyone is in a situation when they feel that they need one." Farron nailed it "(we should) not be scared off by people who are trying to bracket you". It's interesting that for about 8 minutes of the 30 minute discussion, Norman Lamb doesn't get a word in.
There is an emerging list of liberal 'clobber' issues which are taken as a litmus test for whether anything else you say is worth a hearing. Support for gay marriage is one of them, abortion is another, and I can see euthanasia joining the list before too long. Libdem members are talking openly about feeling excluded:
Current discussions within the party haven’t always been a pleasant experience for me as a Christian. Some in the party seem to have decided that people of faith have no logic, no reason, and shouldn’t hold party positions. I have been told that faith is irrational and that “True Liberals” don’t let faith influence them.
To have this debate out in the open is better than it progressing in whispers behind hands. Hopefully it will create a line in the sand that is clear that committed Christians can play a full part in the LibDems. There shouldn't be a mainstream political party that's closed to people of Christian faith (or any faith, for that matter). And Christian faith is just as valid a reason for holding political views as socialism, neoliberalism, materialism, or any other philosophy.