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Graeme Archer

Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.

Who’s in bigger trouble, Labour or the Liberal Democrats?

Labour is still twitching, going through the motions of its over-rushed and (Liz Kendall aside) ill-populated “leadership” election with all the grace of a particularly gruesome, cobbled-together corpse, one that spasms galvanically under the horrified gaze of its by-now hysterical, lever-snatching creator. “It’s alive!” It so isn’t, Victor.

“Victor!” OK, the metaphor breaks down there. Nothing victorious can emerge from Labour’s contest, although one welcome casualty of this slow-motion bloodbath (a more accurate metaphor would be to do with the boiling of frogs) is surely that those who proclaim the innate superiority of preferential voting systems might finally admit that no voting algorithm is universally optimal. Any system which encourages a startled Blairite deer-impressionist to hint that he’s open to offering Corbyn a job is surely, by definition, Not A Good Thing. (“I love football, me! And wage and price controls.”)

Labour, however, is likely to recover, for all their current existential angst. They have a movement, and even in these days of hollowed-out party membership, that still counts for a lot. The ululations by Labour sympathisers remind me of the Tory era of doom at the end of the last century. It’s like looking in a temporally-warped mirror (when you haven’t slept properly): We’re Finished! What Is To Be Done?

Other than (possibly) being Jeremy’s go-to holiday book of choice, “what is to be done”, sooner or later, is that Labour will locate someone sufficiently Tory-ish to re-assure that swathe of the electorate who are open to the Blairite contradiction (“You really can lose control of public spending, and still be a caring person!”)

In this respect, actually, I prefer Corbyn to Cooper or Burnham. No-one has ever explained satisfactorily how “Left-wing” is supposed to work, absent socialism; I always suspected this absence-filling to be the root of Blair’s messianicism, a characteristic that was there right from the start. (“We are the political wing of the British people”. That’s a definition of One Nation, certainly, but not one you should read without shivering.)

No: Labour will be back, in some manifestation or other, perhaps – entering the realm of hyperbolic speculation – after learning how to stitch some SNP limbs onto its jangling, mis-shapen body. (Remember at the end of Shelley’s novel, the monster departs to “the Northernmost extremity of the globe”.)

The party which has reached its terminus is the Liberal Democrat one: eight MPs? Come on. And the election of Tim Farron is going to hasten that end, because his strategy – to plant himself solidly on the Left of the spectrum – will not survive his religiously-inspired dislike of, let’s be blunt, same-sex sexual intercourse.

Repeatedly, on his first week in the job, he was asked whether he thought gay sex is a sin; repeatedly, he wouldn’t give a straight answer.

Let me be very clear: I wish this weren’t so. I disagree with Mr Farron’s prejudice (I watched his attempt on the news to explain why his abstention from a marriage reform vote was fine, all fine; I was not convinced), but in my entirely unimportant view of the world, that wouldn’t be sufficient to rule out voting Liberal.

Mr Farron’s problem is that I’m not his electoral target (which is a change from when Nick Clegg was party leader.) Farron’s target, his own choice, is the centre-Left. And he will not be forgiven by the cultural leaders of that faction in society – dominant in the media – for not being able to give a clear and “correct” answer to “Is sex between men a sin?”

It will become painful to watch, and if his current stock response (“we are all guilty/sinners”) won’t cut it, neither will appeals to religious conscience (ironically), nor pointed remarks about the failure of interviewers to ask similar questions of politicians of “other” faiths. (Some sins are more equal than others, and to be fair: because an interviewer might be too scared to ask question X of holder-of-faith Y1, it doesn’t follow that she or he is wrong to ask the same question X of holder-of-faith Y2.)

And now I must confess my own prejudice. It’s not Farron’s Christianity, or the fact he probably regards me as a candidate for hell, which I find off-putting (much). It is – and Y1 and Y2 have this in common – that evangelical “air” which accompanies him. I back away from anyone who is too enthusiastic, too certain, of some insight they claim to have into the universe. The “God” part of such religious certainty is far less off-putting than the certainty itself (and is not confined to the religious, of course).

Can you be a liberal and an evangelical Christian? Of course you can. Can you refuse to answer the question “Is gay sex a sin?” while delivering a centre-Left Liberal Democrat renaissance? The two questions are not the same, and it’s the latter that spells doom for an entity which once promised so much.

Conservatives who believe liberalism has an important political function should react to this opportunity, because Conservatism without a dose of liberalism is where Conservatism goes wrong. Unzip that tent door, fellow Tories, and beckon those dispossessed centre-Right liberals in. Come on, baby. It’s cold outside.

Mr Farron might think that gay sex is sinful. But a union between those non-Left liberals he wants rid of, and a big-tent Tory party: that’s a match made in heaven.

20 comments for: Graeme Archer: Gay sex and big tents

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