Lib Dems should have no connection with "gay cure" advocates

Tim Farron (Photo: Andrew Page)
It's the story that never, ever seems to go away: Tim Farron's associations with evangelical groups opposed to LGBT+ rights.

I've been saying the same things for a decade and I don't really need to repeat them again. People can privately believe what they like but we have to be very careful who we publicly associate ourselves with - especially when gifts and donations are concerned.

The Independent has tonight run a story on Tim Farron accepting £75,000 from Faith in Public, an evangelical Christian organisation whose director "tweeted an article protesting against plans to outlaw gay conversion therapy". 

Unusually for someone reasonably familiar with Christian organisations, I had never previously heard of Faith in Public. I am, however, aware of the director in question, Dr David Landrum, who is also the Director of Advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance. I think it's sufficient to say he's not someone who is likely to share our party's values, especially on LGBT+ equality.

It's far from the first time Tim has unwisely associated himself with evangelical organisations. Two years ago he was due to address an evangelical men's convention, Men Standing Alone, which was "standing" against what it saw as "the onslaught of the gay lobby". Protests at the last minute, in response to which Tim claimed not to know the nature of the convention's widely publicised key objectives, resulted in Tim not fulfilling the engagement - but questions were raised as to his judgement.

Prior to that, Tim for several years accepted an intern from - and defended his associations with - Christian Action, Research and Education (CARE). I expressed the view, in 2012, that we should have no truck with such an organisation. Tim only severed his associations with CARE after a number of individuals, myself included, exposed CARE's support for conversion therapy. I doubt he wanted to, but given the irrefutable evidence of CARE's sponsorship of a 2009 event known as "Mentoring the Sexually Broken" - which championed a "gay cure" - Tim realised he could no longer defend CARE or his connection to it.

The Independent has revealed that, this year, Tim received a donation from Faith in Public to the value of £9,100 in order to provide him with a policy advisor for two days per week. 

In the previous two years FiP has also provided "the services of two policy advisors" (at a value of £50,319) and those of a public relations company (£15,000). 

The tweet at the heart of the controversy, and which was retweeted by Dr Landrum in apparent support, linked to an article in which it was argued that many people "would prefer not to have homosexual feelings. Why should they not be entitled to escape? Why should others not be free to try to help them?"

I am not suggesting that Tim Farron shares these specific views. I don't actually know what his specific views are on various LGBT+ related issues (does anyone?) but I have no reason to believe he supports conversion therapy. What is disturbing is his connections with people who clearly do. From CARE, to the people behind Men Standing Alone, to Faith in Public, Tim seems to consistently choose friends who have very strong anti-LGBT perspectives. This does not reflect well on him, or indeed his judgement.

Tim has defended his connections with FiP and, in response to questions about Dr Landrum's views on conversion therapy, said“I don’t agree with everything Dave Landrum says or thinks, and he doesn’t agree with everything I say or think either.” I'm sorry, but that's ridiculously glib and could be used to defend any inappropriate association. It is neither a repudiation nor a denunciation of Dr Landrum's perspectives. It's also one thing having friends who think differently - quite another for a former leader of a political party to accept significant gifts of support from such people. Questions need to be answered.

The fact is that Tim severed links with CARE in April 2012 after that organisation was shown to have supported a "gay cure". The director of the latest group to generously supply Tim with staff now appears to have a similar view. Why should Tim's response be different now?

It's not so much about individuals, but the ethos of the organisation supporting someone who was, until three years ago, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. We shouldn't be having any kind of relationships with any group or body so diametrically opposed to our policies and values.

Tim has stated that he is "strongly opposed to conversion therapy – it is completely abhorrent and I will vote to ban it when the legislation comes to parliament.” That may well be the case, but opposing conversion therapy is more than just casting a vote in the parliamentary lobby. It means actively resisting those who champion it. It means not accepting gifts from organisations who support it. It means sending out a clear message - something that is inevitably compromised by close associations with the likes of CARE or FiP.

I can't honestly say I'm either surprised or disappointed with Tim Farron. It's happened far too often in the past. Jennie Rigg, a former chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems, told The Independent that Tim should return the donations. "
I think he should certainly consider it and if he doesn’t then be aware that people have a right to have a view on that,” she said.

Indeed. I, however, would go further. This isn't just a material donation - it's provision of policy advisors. Tim needs to do exactly what he did with CARE. We need to draw a line. We can agree to disagree with various charities and organisations on a range of policy issues, but if they support the unscientific, dehumanising and traumatising practice that is "conversion therapy" then we should have no official relationship with them and certainly not have their personnel advising our MPs on policy.

Our MPs should not be effectively sponsored by the likes of CARE or FiP. From a business point of view, such associations would be damaging to the brand. From a political perspective, such associations make us look hypocritical. And, from a human viewpoint, they bring into question our commitment to basic human rights.

Actually, I'm concerned with any kind of organisation "supporting" MPs in this way. The fact it happens doesn't mean that it should, and it isn't healthy in a modern democracy. Gifts of this scale shouldn't really be acceptable, irrespective of who is making them.

You know what you should do, Tim. Please don't defend the indefensible. There are plenty of other charities out there, including Christian ones, who don't devalue LGBT+ lives and are more deserving of your association. You don't need these kinds of stories following you around...and the party doesn't either.

Update, 13.7.20

Tim has clarified matters with the following tweet:

"Faith in Public is an organisation I set up to promote work I do on issues like homelessness, refugees & faith in politics. The only views the organisation has are mine - I strongly oppose conversion therapy & will vote to ban it when it comes to Parliament."

This actually raises other questions - different questions, but still questions about judgement and transparency.

a) Nowhere is it clear what Faith in Public is (it doesn't even have a website). It certainly is not clear that Tim Farron MP is its founder: he is not mentioned in the Companies House entry. Why not? Why would an MP not be open about creating something like this? Why is it that nothing has been known about about the organisation (until now) other than the identity of its directors and that it is a major donor to Tim (as made clear in his Register of Interests)?

b) If setting up such a group, why would a liberal-minded MP appoint as director someone with well-known positions on LGBT+ issues that run counter to the party's views?
c) What action will be taken against Dr Landrum? Presumably as the creator of the organisation Tim has the right to hire and fire? Are there any consequences for an appointed director when they tweet agreement with views that cause public embarrassment for the group's founder? Why, even now, is Tim not distancing himself from Dr Landrum?
d) Where is the evidence of Faith in Public's work on homelessness, refugees and faith in politics? Or is this just a front through which Tim can receive funding for additional staff? (I'm not suggesting it is, but transparency is a huge issue and the appearance of dishonesty isn't a good look for a politician). How can those of us who value democracy think that is is acceptable and appropriate for an MP to set up an organisation whose principal function appears to be donating money to himself? e) The Companies House entry reveals that, in its first few months of existence, this organisation’s registered address was the same as that of the Westmorland and Lonsdale Liberal Democrats. Is this a legitimate use of party offices? 

f) How is Faith in Public funded? The micro-accounts submitted to Companies House do not make it obvious how such a body has been able to make donations to the sum of £75,000.