As a Conservative, I do not usually have much sympathy for the Liberal Democrats. Yet on the 14th June 2017, I felt for Tim Farron after he resigned as leader of his party. His resignation statement read: “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.”
After reading this, I felt immensely frustrated. Liberalism is a political philosophy that historically embraced individual liberty – and that is what Tim Farron did. Despite his personal views, Tim Farron made clear that he was pro-choice on abortion and pro-gay marriage because he believed that he should not impose his views on personal morality on others.
Yet this was not enough for the mainstream media. As Tim Farron was a practising Christian, they demanded to know his personal thoughts on every moral issue, ranging from abortion to gay sex. After refusing to state that he did not think gay sex was sinful, the media’s sole focus on the Liberal Democrat campaign was their leader’s view on homosexual sex. This was despite the Liberal Democrats not advocating any change in policy in that area.
The experience that Tim Farron went through is not uncommon – many people who call themselves “liberal” in theory are extremely illiberal in practice. In fact, Tim Farron’s policies were the definition of liberalism, yet he was condemned by the media for holding personal views they did not agree with. The irony of this stretches far considering one of the key components of liberalism is tolerating views you disagree with.
That, however, is the problem with some people who call themselves liberals. They are only willing to tolerate views with which they personally agree.
If an individual disagrees with liberal “groupthink” policies, they are branded intolerable, bigoted and outdated. This is a powerful technique to stifle debate because the vast majority of people would prefer to avoid, at all costs, being labelled such terms.
An example of this is the treatment by some liberals towards those who openly practise Christianity. In May, the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was interviewed by the BBC and asked if his Catholicism was a barrier to high office. The reason for this question was because some of Mr Rees-Mogg’s more socially liberal Conservative colleagues stated that they would quit the party if he were in charge.
In the same interview, Jacob Rees-Mogg was asked if he could celebrate the news that his fellow Conservative colleague, the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson – who is engaged to a woman – was pregnant. Jacob Rees-Mogg celebrated the news, saying that it was wonderful for the couple and it was joyful that new life was being brought into the world. Mr Rees-Mogg also accepted that gay marriage is the will of Parliament and that abortion laws in the UK will not change unless the views of society change. For some liberals, however, this was not enough.
Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, stated that Jacob Rees-Mogg was “not the modern face of the Conservative Party”. Mike Gapes, Labour MP for Ilford South, stated that the “nasty party” was back with a vengeance. And many people on social media called Jacob Rees-Mogg bigoted, homophobic and stated that he should never become Prime Minister. This hysterical response was not because Jacob Rees-Mogg was advocating to translate his personal beliefs into the law of the land, but because he defended, as a private individual, the teachings of his faith.
As a nation that prides itself on tolerance, freedom of religion and freedom of speech, the behaviour towards Tim Farron and Jacob Rees-Mogg, because of their faiths, has been completely unacceptable. These, however, are only two examples. Behaviour like this is seen every day across our country in universities, in friendship groups and in the workplace.
Everyone in our country should feel that they have the right to express their views and religious beliefs without fear of consequence. Yes, there will be disagreements and disputes but that is the joy of living in a free society. We can debate our differences in the open and vote accordingly. Democracy, however, can only function if everyone – within the law – is awarded the same freedoms. By trying to silence and label those with strongly held religious views, some strands of liberalism are doing more harm to themselves than good.
So, as a nation, let’s embrace the fact that we are all free to say what we wish and practise our religion free from persecution. And if somebody does privately hold strong views on personal morality, but still advocates a society in which everyone is free to live their lives the way they see fit, they are a true liberal. If you seek to alienate them for their private beliefs, you are unworthy of the word.