Farron, religion and Liberalism

That a thoroughly decent man has been forced from public office is a given and I say that as an atheist.

Yes I was very uncomfortable watching Tim contort himself into knots when asked about his religious views and yes the media were out to do him harm over his religion. Just think about it, how many other leading politicians have strong religious views and how many of them have been hounded out of office for holding them? Blair got some stick because he was Roman Catholic but I struggle to think of many others in recent times.

Did Tim bring trouble upon himself? Well yes to some extent because of this contorted answers that had us all scratching our heads. And you know despite his odd answers he actually did a lot to back minority rights and the LGBT community have acknowledged that apart from what I will call their more militant fringe.

Can you be a Liberal hold religious views? Well you must be able to as there seem to be many people out there who do. Anyway one of the significant strands of liberalism comes from ‘Chapel Liberals’ and Methodism. I am sure my dear old Mum was a Chapel Liberal and I personally know many Lib Dem’s who hold strong religious views and I count them as my friends.

The crunch issue as I see it is this. As a Liberal your guiding light is the rights of others and your being willing to stand up for those rights even when you personally do not subscribe to them. That’s what Tim Farron tried to do, that’s why he stood up for LGBT rights even though his religion was seemingly telling him otherwise. His problem was being unable to publicly reconcile his liberalism and religion when the contradictions were put to him by the media. And once he had shown weakness the first time he was asked about the matter it was always going to be where the media homed in.

Were the media involved in bullying and intimidation? Yes of course they were, indeed they were acting as though they were from the 1950’s and steeped in intolerance with more than a hint of the Spanish Inquisition thrown in for good (or is that bad) measure. It’s as though Farron were being treated as a criminal for holding religious and political views, it’s a sad reflection on our reactionary media and the intolerant times we live in.

Yes of course opposition politicians also exploited Tim’s inability to answer straight forward questions on the potential conflict between his religion and his liberalism. I picked up what I viewed to be political trolling comments on this very matter.

Brexit has split us very deeply because it has brought back into focus views that people used to be ashamed of talking about – racism, intolerance, homophobia, etc. Farron in my view became a victim of that new intolerant culture and it shames our society greatly.

One last thing, the schism on the left of British politics is not actually so much about policy but about libertarian versus authoritarian approaches. In general terms socialism is more authoritarian and liberalism is obviously libertarian. Tell you what is good for you as opposed to giving you the facts to make your own mind up you could say. Quite obviously our society is by its nature these days far more authoritarian and less libertarian. I hope it goes without saying that Conservatism is also authoritarian.

Authoritarian societies don’t tolerate differences from the norm and the norm is usually set by the ruling classes. Farron is, like many Liberals before him and those who will follow him, too libertarian to be tolerated by a media and a political establishment that see most things very black and white, right and wrong.

Don’t look upon Farron as someone you liked or disliked in party political terms, look upon him as someone our society showed the door to because he was not conforming to the norms as interpreted by the media and the establishmnet. Then look at other minorities and think about them too, who will be next?

Oh yes and Farron stood in 2017 General Election on a policy of tolerance!

Tolerant – Is the Lib Dem’s favourite word selling them short?

A guest posting from Jen Robertson

Is our favourite word selling us short?

A quick google of the phrase ‘Lib Dem tolerant’ and you get a lot of hits, resulting in quotes like these:

“I will build the open, tolerant, united party that can be the opposition to this Conservative government… Together, we must fight to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.” – Tim Farron (http://www.libdems.org.uk/tim-farron-speech-16)

“Join the Liberal Democrats to help shape a more liberal, tolerant, inclusive society” (https://lgbt.libdems.org.uk/en/)

“The Liberal Democrats are the party that will stand up to the decent British values of tolerance, moderation and generosity.” – Nick Clegg (http://www.libdems.org./only_the_lib_dems_offer_stability_unity_and_decency)

Ignoring the fact someone just tried to claim moderation as a virtue, what I can’t help noticing from these quotes is we do like the word tolerant don’t we? I mean we really, really like it. Arguably even to the point where we’ve tried to redefine it. According to the Lib Dem website:

“Tolerant means diverse, compassionate and generous. We will always fight injustice and stand up for the underdog, the outsider, the individual, the minority and the vulnerable against the powerful.” (http://www.libdems.org.uk/about_our_party)

Unfortunately the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t exactly agree with that, defining tolerant as:

“Showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that one does not necessarily agree with.” (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tolerant)

Willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that we don’t necessarily agree with. Well that’s a not exactly negative but it’s certainly a less positive definition than our website is endorsing. I’m certainly open to the idea that language is sometimes a tough thing to place a definitive meaning upon; words mean different things to different people and language is constantly evolving. However I suspect to many people (not least the OED) tolerant falls under the second definition offered here.

If for example you asked me what I thought of a something or someone and I responded by saying “I can tolerate them”, would you think that I felt compassionate and generous towards them? Or that I didn’t really like them that much but was able to be polite to keep the peace?

Tolerance, if you really can’t bring yourself to like and accept someone or something that nonetheless isn’t doing any actual harm, is not a bad thing in its way. It is certainly a welcome step from intolerance. However I am not terribly persuaded that people want to be tolerated. People want to be accepted, they want to be represented, they don’t want your polite (and slightly condescending?) tolerance that ‘allows the existence’ of their different views or ways of living.

Indeed I am not convinced tolerance is actually liberal. It feels like it falls far short of the oft quoted (and oft misattributed):

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” which I have always felt sat at the very heart of liberal philosophy. We don’t tolerate differences and disagreement, we outright encourage it.

All this is building to the fact that I’m just not sure tolerance is the value we should be championing any longer. I was raised at a time when tolerance was considered a wonderful virtue, I remember it being quite a buzzword back then, but a quick overview of the time I was born in might go some way towards explaining that. I was born in a time period when homosexuality was still classed by the WHO as a mental illness, a time when a black woman had never sat in the House of Commons, when a Muslim (man or woman) had never sat in the Commons. Looking back, I was born in a different world. It was also a world before the Human Rights Act of 1998 that sought to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, so in some ways maybe it’s a world we’re set to return to – from what I remember of it I can’t recommend that. I also can’t be comfortable with our liking for ‘tolerance’.

The thing is I don’t think as party we are tolerant, I think we’re better things than that. I think we’re progressive and welcoming and now I’m suggesting we need to take the next step and ditch what rings as outdated language.

What can we exchange ‘tolerance’ for? Acceptance, inclusion, real strides in diversity and representation.

I have a friend who works for the International Slavery Museum and a large part of her job involves teaching people about the legacies of transatlantic slavery, most obviously racism, and working with modern communities living with this legacy. I talked to her about tolerance as a word, running past her how I felt about it and she agreed with me. In her experience ‘tolerance’ was not what people still having to fight for their equal human rights today wanted. They want acceptance and they want to be heard. They want a voice. They want representation.

What’s worse than a party that I know means so well preaching an outdated word like tolerance? Doing it with a parliamentary party that, seemingly through chance, is undeniably lacking in diversity. That we have a female MP now in Sarah Olney is fantastic, but it’s not enough. We need to be championing diversity and representation, not tolerance. In at least some element I’m suggesting we exchange words for action.

I do believe the party is committed to diversity and to acceptance and to the definition of tolerance that I referenced above that’s on the website. I am however concerned that that definition is not what people hear when we keep talking about tolerance and a little bit of me winces when I hear it. There are better ways to talk about these issues. Tolerance may seem like a helpful linguistic shortcut, a quick way of stating our values, but I think that in seeking brevity we risk losing some of our meaning. Personally I don’t think much that we’ve said since in attempts to define ourselves has ever topped the opening sentence from our constitution preamble (very familiar I’m sure to anyone who’s been with the party more than a couple of years as a cut down version of it used to feature on our party membership cards.)

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

(http://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution)

You know what I couldn’t find anywhere in the whole constitution preamble? Any variant of the word tolerant.

Me angry and intollerant?

The other day a friend, whom I appreciate the advice of, said to me that they had noticed how angry some of my postings had become since the EU Referendum result. They went on to say words to the effect that my usual tolerance of views differing from mine own seemed to be a little lacking presently.

Well I suppose that’s a reasonable assessment of me. I don’t think I have ever felt so angry about an issue of public policy as I do about the EU Referendum result and yes I have become very intolerant of people who promote leaving the EU. With tolerance being a fundamental tenet of being a liberal am I becoming illiberal? Makes you think doesn’t it.

I don’t think I have ever feared for the future of our country as I do now, we seem to be fundamentally unstable economically and socially. Hate is on the rise, some elements of the press are completely out of self-control, our economy is in a real mess and our attitude to minorities and refugees is utterly frightening. I would say that in a short space of time we have become fearful, inward-looking, mean spirited and intolerant as Country and it is this sea change that has in turn made be angry and intolerant.

It is not the country I grew up in and I want my tolerant, welcoming Country back.

But the other thing my wise friend had to say was that they feared I was venting some of my anger at a section of society whom I perceived had voted in a way that made them look foolish, irresponsible etc. The point being made, I think, was that the people I was angry with had been manipulated over many, many years to the point where the propaganda against the EU, refugees, the poor etc. had become the truth to them.

This later point is interesting in that what was being suggested to me was that just because I try to take an analytical approach to most issues many people don’t. I actually get that and my posting of a few days ago about being lied to addressed this. It is available via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/11/10/why-do-we-allow-ourselves-to-be-lied-to/

And the point of all this? Well I think the advice was stop shouting at folk who have been manipulated by the press, the wealthy and the powerful and try to convince them that hate and fear does not actually help society develop but instead corrupts it terribly. I wonder if I can rise to that challenge when the anger inside is so strong as we seemingly march towards becoming a fascist state?

Can’t promise I will not shout again as sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me sane, but I do get that being a Liberal means I have to try to reach out to people who stand for things I really, really find distasteful.

Free speech trumps being offended

In a free society we value free speech and that means at times we are going to be offended by our views, beliefs and opinions being challenged and insulted.

The easy answer is to say that so and so should be banned for saying what they have said but if we were banned from saying something how would we feel?

Our religious views or the lack of them is often an area where offence can be intended and indeed taken but that does not mean whose who offend should be stopped from making their views known.

The difficulty we face is our ability to take criticism that challenges our own prejudices but of course those prejudices vary markedly from person to person.

So yes, you have the right to be offended just as you have the right to be the offender. That does not of course excuse bad behaviour which is meant to hurt but some will indeed have intended just that.

For a free society to work we need to be tolerant and considerate when we know that a small minority of us will not be. But the more rules and laws we bring in to stop us being offended the less free we all become.