Last night, Tim Farron gave an interview to Channel 4 news. Cathy Newman, the interviewer, asked the new Lib Dem leader if, as a Christian, he thought that homosexuality was a sin. Tim dodged the question, refusing to say yes or no, in what became a sort of Paxman-esque set up, as Newman asked him again and again for a straight answer. Farron retorted with biblical quotes or bon mots.
Some Lib Dems have taken to social media to partly defend Tim, saying it wasn’t all that bad. Let’s get this straight: it was a memorably poor moment for Farron. Not in the Natalie Bennett league of bad, but that would have required Tim to have gone on ragingly drunk, thrown up and then fallen asleep live on air.
It is always a tough step up, becoming the leader of a political party. The media subjects you to a grilling that there is no way to adequately prepare for. Nick Clegg memorably stumbled when he intimated that perhaps he’d slept with over thirty women in an interview given early in his leadership. Farron can be forgiven for still learning the ropes; like I say, it’s something you can only learn on the job.
However, comparing Clegg’s “30 shags” moment to Farron’s stumble last night is revealing. Nick’s was a one off, silly occasion, that said nothing about his worldview that was going to come back to haunt him. The problem for Tim is that he is going to be asked the same question Cathy Newman put to him last night again and again and again. He needs to come up with an answer which is a lot better than “well, we’re all sinners”. Because by saying that, Tim is essentially saying that yes, homosexuality is a sin and it is morally wrong. In Christain theology, just because we’re all sinners doesn’t mean that sinning is okay. It’s not like you can murder someone and then say, “well, we’re all sinners, aren’t we?” and get off the hook morally. If homosexuality is a sin, then people who engage in the related activity should attempt to refrain from doing so by definition. It is fundamentally immoral, like stealing.
To be the leader of a party in which the majority of people believe that homosexuality isn’t wrong – or even a choice, now that I think about it, a key factor in determining whether something might be considered morally wrong, is problematic for Farron. Someone’s sexuality is an intrinsic part of who they are as a person. So Tim either needs to say yes or no to the “is it a sin?” question, and then if he says yes – which would be the honest thing to do – he needs to explain that within the context of liberalism. Tricky, but I suppose it can theoretically be done – and given that Tim must have his own rationale for all this anyway, probably best to just be completely honest on the subject.
He needs to do this immediately, as in, he needs an answer ahead of his next interview. Tim has to kill this as a story – otherwise it will haunt his whole early leadership of the party. Because, again, he will now be asked a minor variant of the same question, every time from here on in.