Norman Lamb’s campaign removes two volunteers for alleged misuse of personal data for negative push-polling

So just over 24 hours ago, I was sitting in a packed room with hundreds of Liberal Democrats from all over the North East Region. We had all been treated to an excellent two hours of debate between leadership candidates Tim Farron and Norman Lamb. They had each shown the best of themselves. Norman’s thoughtful, intelligent analysis and ideas, his determination to give a voice to the voiceless, Tim’s tub-thumping, barnstorming adrenaline rush of a speech underpinned with good ideas and things that would make Quentin Letts from the Daily Mail hyperventilate. It was great. We truly do have two hugely talented contenders.

Tonight, though, a shadow has been cast over the contest as Norman Lamb has had to suspend two volunteers for misuse of the membership data. The Telegraph has the story:

The row started when the members of Mr Lamb’s campaign team were found to be organising “push polling” among some of the party’s members about Mr Farron last week.

Party supporters were asked about Mr Farron’s voting record on abortion and same sex marriage – both areas where Mr Farron has been heavily criticised. In contrast relatively less controversial questions were asked about Mr Lamb’s views on key policies including reform of the drug laws.

It is understood “several” members complained formally and informally, and Tim Gordon, the party’s chief executive and the leadership election’s acting Returning Officer, is now investigating.

It’s clear that Norman Lamb had no idea what was going on and when the complaints were made he took immediate action and suspended two campaign volunteers. He did the right thing, quickly, and should be commended for that. It’s an example that other parties might like to follow when their activists step out of line.

A spokesman for Mr Lamb’s team said he was “furious” when he found out and two volunteers had been told “very firmly they won’t be doing anything else ever again” on the campaign.

Mr Lamb told The Telegraph: ​”I was made aware yesterday of a potential breach of data protection by volunteers in my campaign team. I take this issue very seriously.

“I will not tolerate breaches such as this on my campaign. My campaign manager immediately reported the issue to the Acting Returning Officer, Tim Gordon.

“I took immediate action to suspend the two individuals from further involvement in the campaign.”​

The Telegraph reports that the two people suspended are Gavin Grant, chair of Western Counties region (although he denies any involvement in this) and Mark Gettleson.

A party spokesperson said:

We have been made aware of an alleged breach of party rules and are looking into the issue as a matter of urgency.

The Liberal Democrats take any alleged breaches of party rules extremely seriously. The party has contacted both teams to reiterate rules on the leadership process.

Tim Farron’s campaign is not allowing itself to be distracted by this:

Tim will keep running a positive campaign talking about the issues the party faces and his policies to rebuild the party.

This brings back memories of the “Calamity Clegg” scandal in the last leadership campaign. Time and time again that was used against Nick Clegg in subsequent years, so all campaigners should note that their actions could cast a long shadow on all of us. We have more than enough problems to face without giving ourselves a few self-inflicted wounds to deal with too.

Just in case anyone is in any doubt about Tim Farron’s position on LGBT equality and his voting record, I’d recommend reading his Pink News interview in which he discusses the issues in detail. In summary, he is in favour of full LGBT equality. On abortion, he told Andrew Neil several times that he supported the law as it currently stood.

Greg Mulholland, Tim’s campaign co-ordinator, tweeted:

However, he later took  his understandable anger at tonight’s news out rather ill-advisedly.

Greg has long felt that people of faith are not accepted in the party so that may explain his tweet. In 2013, he wrote on this site that he was worried that people with a faith would no longer feel comfortable and that their views were entirely compatible with liberalism:

If this trend continues, the Liberal Democrats could no longer be seen as a place where people of faith feel comfortable; and if these people are pushed out, it will be a tragedy not just for all Christian liberals who would no longer have a home, but also damaging to a party that wants – and needs – to have a broad appeal electorally. Liberalism must remain at the heart of the Liberal Democrats and therefore continue to be the reason why Christians, as well as those of other faiths and none, decide to join, to campaign, and to stand. I am a liberal not in spite of my faith. I am a liberal not just alongside my faith. I am a liberal because of my faith. So anyone who denies me my right to believe in Jesus Christ is denying me of my right to believe in liberalism. That philosophical path is the road to intolerance, to undermining freedom of conscience, a road that no true liberal would proceed along.

Let’s hope that this is the last incident of this kind. We really need to be talking about Norman Lamb’s brilliant ideas about drugs and assisted dying and cutting the prison population, and Tim Farron’s practical plans on rebuilding the party, invigorating the activists and bringing people to us with the aim of getting us back into government nationally and locally as well as in Scotland and Wales. Actually, the pair of them need some closer examination on a couple of things they have been saying. What does Norman’s plan for the party structure and reform actually mean in practical terms? How can Tim’s plan for us to lead the EU referendum campaign be realistic after the drubbing we’ve had? The due process surrounding tonight’s revelations will have to go on, but the campaign needs to be elevated again so that members choose on the merits of two excellent candidates. UPDATE: Very late last night, Tim Farron did a very grown up thing:

Let’s hope that everyone follows his example.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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67 Comments

  • George Potter 20th Jun '15 - 11:57pm

    For reference, for something like this to have happened either dozens of volunteers or a polling company will have had to have been given the contact details of all of our members which were provided to both leadership candidates.

    Obviously Norman Lamb would never authorise something like this so I’m happy to accept that he knew nothing about what these two volunteers in his campaign were doing. However, I would question how it is that they were so trusted that they were given access to that membership data in the first place without supervision.

  • So, then, can someone please tell us what these rules are?

    You give two candidates a membership database and, unless you restrict their communications specifically, what they choose to say to prospective voters about themselves and their opponents is surely their business alone? Push polling is va ery commonplace process, whatever your views on it.

    What concerns me rather more is that it appears that Norman Lamb has apparently not had control over who is putting out what on his behalf.

  • Norman Lamb is running to be the leader of a party that defends civil liberties….his campaign have not protected mine and thousands of other peoples personal data. He should consider his position tonight….

  • Very unfortunate. I can’t imagine Norman ever allowing such a thing to take place so I will not let this influence my decision when I vote.

    For the record, I was called by one of Tim’s team and I knew them personally. We discussed the matter and they were nothing but respectful of Norman, they just thought Tim’s skills and character were more suited at this time. They didn’t criticise Norman but simply made the positive case for Tim.

    This, for me, was the correct way to go. As such, I am dissapointed by Greg’s tweet as I don’t see how Norman himself does not fulfil the criteria he sets out. We will need our MPs to be in united during the Parliament; division started by a leadership campaign will only put us backwards. We have to get fully behind whoever wins – too much is at stake. I appreciate, as we all will, that the campaign teams are passionate about their candidates, but when the membership is starting to feel positive again let us all build on that.

    Since the election we have seen a fantastic rise in members, great results in Wallington and Mole Valley and two positive, forward looking leadership candidates. Let us keep it that way. Our task for the next five years is to show that the Liberal voice is here to stay, to make progress and to campaign for our values. Every second we spend arguing amongst ourselves is a second wasted.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Jun '15 - 1:16am

    Dave, I don’t think so. He clearly didn’t know about it. What’s happened is serious, but the culpability is to the individuals involved. I am furious at what they have done because it harms all of us.

  • The Telegraph headline says it all: “Norman Lamb’s Liberal Democrat leadership campaign in ‘dirty tricks’ polling row.” I don’t believe NL personally sanctioned this, but as George Potter says, he does have questions to answer about how closely he has managed his campaign.
    If you remember how close the Clegg/Huhne result was in the end, I believe Chris would have won had it not been for the ‘Calamity Clegg’ incident. That alienated a lot of potential voters – including myself. I wonder if history is about to repeat itself.
    If found guilty by the way, the two people concerned should be expelled from the party. Yes we need members, but not members like this.

  • Gavin Grant and Mark Gettleson are not just two random volunteers. They are well known Lib Dems and have been influential at various times in the past. I do feel that although I accept that Norman did not know about this or autherise it, there is a certain attitude in their campaign which had maybe led Gavin and Mark to think this was acceptable.

    The whole ‘Norman is the True Liberal’ with the implication that Tim is not. The constant attacks on Tim using a misreading of his postition by a small number of people on Lib Dem Forums – including Lib Dem voice. They are stopping this being a mature debate about what sort of leader we need over the next 5 years.

    I was completely undecided about who to vote for – but the behaviour of key supporters like Gavin and Mark have convinced me that Tim is getting my vote.

  • David Howarth 21st Jun '15 - 8:44am

    I’m afraid this is a much bigger problem than some seem to appreciate. Norman’s negative campaign messages are now all over the national media, probably reaching more party members than the push polling operation could have achieved by itself. In addition, Norman’s campaign messages (‘true Liberal’ ‘consistent Liberal’ or whatever), whether intentionally or not, clearly chime with the push polling’s messages. I’m waiting to hear how Norman proposes to deal with these problems. Firing allegedly ‘rogue’ campaigners isn’t enough.

  • Alisdair McGregor 21st Jun '15 - 9:02am

    @Tony Dawson

    I imagine it’s like the agreement you have to make when standing for selection to a seat – that the data you are given will only be used in certain ways, authorised by you or a properly designated person working for you etc.

    Having run my own selection campaigns and been involved in one euro candidates selection campaign, I can assure you I’ve always had a very keen understanding of data protection as it applies to party membership lists. It seems someone in Norman’s campaign didn’t.

  • Graham Evans 21st Jun '15 - 9:44am

    The fundamental problem with this campaign is that we members are faced with a choice between a candidate whose voting record on some social issues is clearly influenced by his evangelical Christian commitment but who like many evangelical Christians has a certain charisma – rather reminiscent of David Alton – and a worthy former minister who has had to make the sort of voting compromises associated with Government, and lacks the barn storming rhetorical skills needed by a small opposition party. Perhaps it is time to look outside the Westminster MPs for a leader, and leave it to the remaining MPs to choose a Westminster parliamentary leader – like the SNP, and de facto like the Greens and UKIP.

  • Just read about it online. Cold be very serious indeed.

  • John Tilley 21st Jun '15 - 9:57am

    Hang on a second —
    As David Howarth points out the “so-called ” volunteers were not acting in a rogue way, they were acting in line with the overall Lamb campaign of negativity.

    The first mention of Norman Lamb running for the leadership was some months ago, before The General Election.

    The references to and the concentration on Norman Lamb’s record of voting on any issue that might have a connection with the religion of his opponent have been anything but subtle.
    Is Norman suggesting that he has not noticed the prominence of these issues in his campaign?

  • Getting a tiny bit bored of the Norman Lamb “voice of the voiceless” bit. An an adviser to people with early onset dementia I saw how the stress of the coalition’s welfare changes affected the people I worked with.

    Also, though I am a Farron supporter I am also a bit bored of the whole “Liberal family” bit. As Sara Scarlett and others have pointed out on this site we are not part of a family. We are part of a political organisation. Surely post Helena Morrissey’s report we have to talk in more professional and less sentimental terms about this organisation. Sentiment and tribalism has fuelled the pickles we got into before. When something is amiss members need to be subject to disciplinary action as they would in any properly structured organisation.

  • Mr Grant said that he had “had no contact at any point with anybody from Lib Dem HQ”. He added: “I would be very surprised if any such activity had taken place. Second, it is simply a fact that I have no access to the Lib Dem Party’s national membership list nor have I had any dealings with a polling company.”

  • Suzanne Miller 21st Jun '15 - 12:41pm

    Tim Farron has spoken for secular government and has voted for liberal positions on religiously sensitive points; as an atheist with religiously believing loved ones of various stripes, I am fairly satisfied on that score, and I don’t question his sincerity. We mustn’t exclude or choose people according to religious belief. Still thinking, though. I’d like to see him clarify his stance on conscience clauses and his comment that faith schools “should be able to practise their ethos”.

  • Bridget Harris 21st Jun '15 - 12:48pm

    Beyond whatever the potential breaches that have occur ed in this particular case, the party simply can’t claim any credibility when it comes to protecting data generally.

    Speaking as someone who handled membership data from 2 internal party campaigns, – it was (is?) in a disgraceful state – there are huge numbers of duplicates and poor record handling generally.

    In addition, when I cancelled my membership last year, I unsubscribed from the next batch of party mailings. But this didn’t stop my being telephoned by party canvassers from the membership team 3 times (each time I had to politely ask them to take my name of their lists).

    I have had emails from the party’s central mailshots 5 times, each time I’ve unsubscribed. This is quite apart from being emailed from other internal party lists like London / southwark etc.

    The party knows how to talk the talk with data protection, but a closer look into any of their systems they do not have robust systems in place to prevent breaches themselves, let alone others they allow access to that data.

  • I agree with every word of Ruth Bright’s post.

  • peter tyzack 21st Jun '15 - 1:24pm

    ‘push polling is very common-place’ yes the Conservative Party have been using it for many years, how else do unusual stories about would be candidates suddenly become commonplace during an election run-up.? The fact that something is done doesn’t mean it should be accepted. No, it should be outlawed.

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '15 - 1:38pm

    Graham Evans

    The Liberal Democrats has never been a party unfriendly (until recently in some quarters) to people whose values and identity are Christian, Jewish, Muslim etc.. We have been a broad-based party with members of faith and of no faith.

    I really hope that we remain a party of tolerance and pluralism but it comes to something when someone who joined this party at 16, has worked tirelessly for it and its values and has held the office as President, is considered not ‘liberal’ enough in some quarters.

    It also comes to something when some people surmise that one cannot hold Christian values and be Liberal – tell that to Gladstone, Steel and Kennedy.

    We should not be concerned whether someone happens to be a Catholic an Anglican or a person of no religion. What matters is a shared commitment to the cause and a set of values which are worth fighting for.

    This party’s battle cry has been that we are the party of Conscience and Reform.

    Right now we need to find a Leader who carry that cry towards the sound of gunfire…

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '15 - 1:56pm

    @ Suzanne Miller

    ‘ I’d like to see him clarify his stance on conscience clauses’

    The Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats have championed historically the role of individual conscience and indeed, respected it. I am seeing this key liberal principle constantly queried these days by some and I’m wondering why the role of conscience is becoming so problematic, especially as the party preamble calls on no enslavement by conformity.

    So are some saying that those who say might be Orthodox Jews and practising Catholics are right to be in effect barred from a public role (say registrar) if they dare to express dissent from the new order on conscience grounds, because their beliefs and values are central to who they are? Since when was a conscience clause something a Liberal could not vote for? That’s news to me.

    ‘.. his comment that faith schools “should be able to practise their ethos.’

    Again, what is wrong with a school with a faith character practising its ethos in a liberal society? I worked in a school with a Christian ethos for a few years and the pupils followed the national curriculum and mixed with a wide cross section of the community. The ethos was welcoming, inclusive and Christian.

    Is it more liberal to bar Christians from expressing their religious faith through educational service in your view? What happened to freedom of religious expression and again not being enslaved by conformity?

  • paul barker 21st Jun '15 - 2:07pm

    As I understand it, this matter has been refered to the Police, obviously any investigation & possible prosecution would take precedence over internal Party discipline. Both the accused have been suspended from Normans team & the push-polling has presumably stopped so there things lie for the moment. We can be proffesional & still treat each other with friendship & respect.
    I must say that I havent noticed any negative campaigning but obviously Tim starts as the favourite & Norman as the challenger so their respective campaigns are bound to have a different flavour. I will be happy with whoever wins & the loser will continue to play a major part in the Party so lets not give our enenmies any more ammunition.

  • Tony Dawson 21st Jun '15 - 2:11pm

    @Manfarang:

    Mr Grant said that. . .

    ” it is simply a fact that I have no access to the Lib Dem Party’s national membership list.”

    The (not insubstantial, still) West of England regional list, however????

    Seriously, though,if Gavin Grant is innocent, please can we have a complete hoovering out of any references to his name on this site with reference to this matter? He should not, in any case,have his treatment by the party prejudiced by being ‘lynched’ on the internet forums. And, of course, I agree with Ruth Bright, too.

  • All very unfortunate, if true looks like desperation, let us hope lessons have been learnt and we move on in a dignified manner.

  • I am sure I am not alone in objecting to the way in which the word ‘faith’ has been hijacked by the supporters of religions. Despite having it pushed down my throat as a child , as have others, I am perfectly content in my adult life of being free from religion. Being non-religous doesn’t stop me subscribing to a moral code, finding solace within a strong family or contemplating my place in a complicated and mysterious universe. I therefore object to being referred to as someone of ‘no faith’ when I am in fact proudly someone of ‘no religious faith’.

  • Did Greg Mulholland really need to re-open this one?
    Of course people of faith can opt out of activities to suit their conscience/own interpretation of what their big friend in the sky / said big friend’s representative on earth is telling them – they just don’t need to be paid public money for pleasing themselves. A state Registrar who chooses to marry only a certain type of pairing just isn’t doing their job properly, and shouldn’t be paid by the rest of us, simple!

  • I agree very much with Helen Tedcastle. The Liberals have always included many committed Christians and we certainly don’t want the leadership campaign to turn into a referendum on Christianity. (and I am an atheist BTW)

    At the present time it is especially important for us to reach out to Liberal-minded people who practice other Faiths, particularly Islam…. This is the only way that extremism can be combatted, by welcoming members of all Faiths and ethnicities that are happy to obey our laws into our Society. Religious people of all denominations will look at how we treat Christians within our party and will be reassured if leading members of the Party are able to hold strong religious views and follow their conscience on some issues. Meanwhile religious extremists will very quickly see that we are not the Party for them, as our leaders support such things as Equal Marriage, as Tim Farron clearly does

    I agree with Peter Tyzack on push-polling. It is underhand.

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '15 - 4:41pm

    johnmc wrote: ‘Of course people of faith can opt out of activities to suit their conscience/own interpretation of what their big friend in the sky’

    and

    ‘ A state registrar who chooses to marry only a certain type of pairing just isn’t doing their job properly, and shouldn’t be paid by the rest of us…’

    There is a contradiction here. On the one hand johnmc appears to accept that there is a role for conscience in the public sphere (though the description of faith he attests, bears little relation to religious teaching in reality), while on the other hand, he eschews the enactment of a conscience clause in practice. Therein lies a contradiction.

    It is consistent within Liberalism to argue for the role of conscience in public service, avoiding putting people into impossible conflicts between their role and their values/identity eg: is it right to force a nurse who is a practising Catholic assist at an abortion? It would be illiberal to force such a person to go against their beliefs – that causes harm to social harmony and to the individual involved.

    Is it liberal to insist that a vegan kitchen assistant serve veal in a council kitchen when someone else could be found to serve it?

  • Peter Watson 21st Jun '15 - 4:57pm

    @johnmc “A state Registrar who chooses to marry only a certain type of pairing just isn’t doing their job properly, and shouldn’t be paid by the rest of us, simple!”
    I can see why this would be fine for new registrars, but I think it is more complicated for those who have been employed for a number of years who then have the rules changed to something they find hard to reconcile with their religious beliefs.
    Picking up on the theme of a lack of tolerance or respect shown by many Lib Dems towards those with religious faith, it seems to me that LDV commenters are far more outspoken against Anglicans and Roman Catholics than people from smaller Christian denominations or other religions, and I don’t recall anyone mocking or taking strong positions against Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc. to anything like the same extent. It is striking that Labour and Conservatives seem to be better represented than Lib Dems by people from a range of backgrounds, not just in terms of religion. Some times this seems like a party that is neither the most liberal nor the most democratic.

  • Steve Comer 21st Jun '15 - 6:12pm

    I do sense a growing sense of panic among some of the party establishment that intensely dislikes the political stance the party took 10-12 years ago, and especially the fact that it bought us the highest number of MPs since 1923. They were desperate to be rid of Charles Kennedy (r.i.p.), then desperate to have Ming as Leader (preferably by ‘coronation’), then desperate that their anointed ‘boy who must be king’ beat Chris Huhne in 2007.

    All along their strategy was to move the Lib Dems to the economic right They are clearly rattled that Tim Farron appears to be so popular amongst a battered and bruised membership seeking an end to the attempt to create a British version of the FDP, and a return to the (social) Liberal values that brought us success.

    The cheerleaders for the Clegg/Marshall/Laws gang don’t seem to have any contrition for the fact that they almost destroyed the party, they still insist they were right all along (well they were certainly on the right!). The strange thing is that they reached their ascendancy just as the economic crisis was discrediting the whole basi of Thatcher/Reaganomics!

    I’m not surprised they are resorting to dubious tactics, we’ve seen in the General Election how playing on fear can bring short term success. I don’t actually think Norman Lamb shares their neo-Con views, but sadly he is seen by them (and the media) as the post-Clegg ‘continuity candidate.’

    I hope a win by Tim Farron will see the party finally ditch the Orange Book and revisit the Yellow Book. We need a Liberal policy of hope for the times we face, as Llloyd George and Franklin Roosevelt realised after the economic crash of 1929.

  • Peter Bancroft 21st Jun '15 - 6:57pm

    Steve, you’re imagining things.

    Nobody is trying to make the Lib Dems the British FDP and the leadership election isn’t a battle between two wings.

  • Let’s not fight the last leadership election, please. I voted for Clegg not particularly because I agreed with him all the time – Huhne was closer to my political viewpoint – but in part because there was just something about Huhne which didn’t click with me. I hate to think what would have happened had he been elected leader, given what we learnt subsequently.

    Someone criticised the idea of the “liberal family” that Tim refers to. Personally, that’s something which I like about our party – we support each other in times of crisis, celebrate each others’ victories, and commiserate over our losses, much more so than any other party. I understand why some seek a more “professional”, or, dare I say, corporate approach, but this just won’t work. Part of where we are today is precisely because we started to move away from this “family” notion – the divide between the “Orange Book” leadership and the more “Yellow Book” (as someone put it) membership and supporters. It’s the leadership which needs to come back to the membership, not the other way round – and, to me, it’s Tim who is the best placed to do that.

    In any event, whoever leads the party from the summer onwards needs the support and efforts of all.

  • I am not sure why religious people feel entitled to have exceptions from the law or from apects of a job they have been employed to do. Every day seems to bring examples such as the catholic pharmacist’s assistant refusing to supply the morning after pill or the muslim shop assistant refusing to touch a bottle of alcohol at the checkout.

    If you worked in a local authority housing department, you wouldn’t be able to refuse to process right to buy applications ,on the basis that you belonged to a political party which didn’t agree with theat policy.

    For my part I can’t swim so I won’t be applying for a job as a life guard!

  • Meral Hussein Ece 21st Jun '15 - 7:25pm

    I’m pleased to see people on this thread defend the right of others to have freedom of faith and religious belief. I’ve had so called Liberal Democrats attack me on social media for defending Muslims who are fed up, and who have left the party in droves because they feel their religious beliefs and freedoms are not welcome in the party. Just yesterday someone who calls himself ‘DrColinW’ sent me a message saying ‘all religion is superstitious none sense’ and ‘typical religionite, wants to be treated as special, no you’re not, get over it!!’ All because I was critical of far right Geert Wilders demonising Muslims, & his warped obsession with cartoons of the Prophet. Where’s the tolerance?

  • Freedom of faith and belief is an important liberal principle. However, it is also important to remember that it is a freedom to believe the things you wish to believe, and disbelieve the things you wish to disbelieve, without having the state or any other organisation pry into your conscience and tell you what to think or what not to think.

    But it is not a wider licence. It is not a privilege to act as you wish, without regard to the legal and ethical norms of the country in which you live. Freedom of belief does not exempt you from the law or from decency.

    It is not a licence to impose your own religion, or values derived from that religion, upon other people who do not share your values, either because they are of a different faith or because they interpret the same faith in a different way.

    It is not a protection against criticism or even mockery of your religious beliefs. The same principles that favour your freedom to believe as you choose also protect the right of others to believe differently, and to express that belief.

    It is not an excuse to commit violence, or burn books, or deprive other people of the freedoms you enjoy, or to limit the freedoms enjoyed by other religious or irreligious books, even if your religion tells you that you can and should do those things. Your religion may preach intolerance, but freedom of belief does not permit you to put that preaching into practice.

    The State and society have an obligation to respect each person’s private beliefs to the extent of not quarrelling with them about it or demanding they change it. They are not obliged to let each person try to create a safe space in which a given religion is immune from criticism, or a petty empire in which religious doctrine rules to the exclusion of all other laws and views.

  • I don’t have a problem with any Lib Dem member who holds a regious belief that precludes them from allowing a gay couple from sharing a bed in their home. I would have a problem with a Lib Dem member who runs a B&B and refuses service to a gay couple, who want to share a bed in a room that is not part of that owner’s private quarters.

  • “Is it liberal to insist that a vegan kitchen assistant serve veal in a council kitchen when someone else could be found to serve it?”

    Yes, if that is the job the assistant accepted and is being paid to do. It’s not the assistant’s job to dictate other people’s dietary choices.

    However, the right of the assistant, outside of work, to protest the slaughter of calves is something that should be protected. There are proper and improper venues for the expression of one’s values.

  • @Mr Wallace We are not a right wing party! We couldn’t go into coalition with Labour – that wouldn’t make a majority. If we didn’t go in to coalition we would have (rightly) been called spineless. What is the point in voting for a party which doesn’t want to be in power and make a difference?

  • I think Peter Watson has it right…

    New registrars should marry all eligible people. It is part of the job. Registry office weddings have nothing to do with religion and are a State service. But people who were registrars before the law changed should be able to have a conscience-based exemption, or some degree of compensation.

    The same applies to the vegan in the restaurant. If the restaurant changed from vegetarian to meat-serving while they were an employee, that is one thing, but if they apply for a job and expect different conditions of service from other people, they need to negotiate that at the time…

  • re: the Liberal Democrat “family”

    I think people should respect the fact that we do not have the political funding of other parties and now have very few MEP’s and MP’s, so there is very little State funding of salaries. So our activists are mostly volunteers who give up most of their spare time to the Party. In these circumstances the Liberal Democrats provide most of the social life for many people and naturally they need some reward for that! Winning elections can help but feeling that you are supported by a wider “family” is very important, especially in hard political times.

    I do agree that sometimes this can lead to issues being “dealt with” inside the family when they should not be. Being a “family member” does not give you the right to engage in abuse of other people. So anyone with a position of responsibility within the Party needs to be subject to a disciplinary framework, but lets not throw out the family feel of the Party just because of that, or we will lose many valuable activists

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '15 - 11:02pm

    David-1

    ‘Freedom of faith and belief is an important liberal principle. However, it is also important to remember that it is a freedom to believe the things you wish to believe, and disbelieve the things you wish to disbelieve, without having the state or any other organisation pry into your conscience and tell you what to think or what not to think.’

    In other words, you have the freedom to ‘think’ but not the freedom to act according to your conscience. According to this perspective, each person is a unit of thoughts who does not and cannot impact on anything anywhere outside of the self or one’s personal space.

    Yet, this is not what conscience actually means. Conscience is what in your inmost core and deepest moral sense you believe to be right. When one exercises one’s conscience it is because the thing you are being asked to do goes completely contrary to or in concert with what you hold to be to be right/wrong eg: In the past people stood up for conscience in opposing slavery, there is the issue of conscientious objection in time of war.

    Exercising conscience does sometimes mean going against the grain of public opinion, even the state and the law and indeed against many in your own party.

    Liberals have been dissenters and non-conformists and know that conscience is a key principle in defending, safeguarding or standing up for what they believe to be right – against tyranny for instance.

    These ‘conscience’ issues come up every now and again. We are more than simply thinking units – we act and bear our rights and values within and across the society we live.

    It is not imposing your religion on someone to refuse to assist at an abortion or go to war – you are omitting to carry it out or to take part, while others are free to do so.

    The kind of religion you seem to object is the kind we have seen selectively portrayed since the Rushdie affair – book burnings, intolerance and violence -as if these acts and behaviours were the norm for religious people in our society.

    They are not.

    Religious extremism is by definition not the norm, therefore, to use extremes as a way of imposing a kind of French-style secularist orthodoxy on those with religious beliefs (as opposed to a laissez-faire or via media secular order) seems to me to be bleaching this society of its diversity in the public sphere.

    In my view, it barely masks a deep intolerance of conscience and religious expression in the public square.

  • Steve Comer,

    “The cheerleaders for the Clegg/Marshall/Laws gang don’t seem to have any contrition for the fact that they almost destroyed the party… I’m not surprised they are resorting to dubious tactics, we’ve seen in the General Election how playing on fear can bring short term success. I don’t actually think Norman Lamb shares their neo-Con views, but sadly he is seen by them (and the media) as the post-Clegg ‘continuity candidate.’ ”

    Norman Lamb is certainly not campaigning as a neo-Con. But nor did Clegg, when he ran for the leadership back in 2007. Clegg adopted a “slightly-disorganised-bright-young-nice-guy” approach to his leadership campaign, and avoided putting forward much in the way of novel ideas. It was only when Clegg faced his first conference as Leader that he came out with his “big new idea” which was “Big Permanent Tax Cuts”.

    Not many people realised at the time quite how serious this was. However, Clegg had revealed his true colours as a stridently right-wing conservative, and one who had won the leadership by concealing those views. For Clegg, coalition with the Tories was no compromise. It was where he had always wanted to be.

    Norman Lamb likes to talk about things like mental health, which is a worthy cause, and one that does not reveal any clear underlying political stance. Perhaps his friends and their behaviour provide the best indication of what that might be.

  • Helen Tedcastle how can it be right to equate the opposition to slavery with an opposition to gay relationships? arent you masking what is basically bigotry by calling it ‘a matter of conscience’.

  • Coming back to the main topic, I see Mark Gettleson has broken cover. He is quoted by the BBC as apologising for ‘any offence caused’ and then goes on to basically justify the poll and take the opportunity to again reiterate the point it was trying to make!!! The article says one other un-named person has also resigned (though it doesn’t say from what exactly). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33215155

  • Helen Tadcastle
    Of course no one should forget one of the greatest liberals of all. The teachings of that Jewish rabbi Jesus of Nazareth.

  • “Religious extremism is by definition not the norm” — that only follows from a thoroughly relativist definition of “extremism” which I doubt very much you hold, Helen. In the territories controlled by ISIL or Boko Haram or the Taliban, or for that matter Sa’udi Arabia, religious extremism is very much the norm.

  • John Tilley 22nd Jun '15 - 8:05am

    Meral Hussein Ece 21st Jun ’15 – 7:25pm
    “I’m pleased to see people on this thread defend the right of others to have freedom of faith and religious belief. I’ve had so called Liberal Democrats attack me on social media for defending Muslims .,.”

    Yes I have experienced this too. There do seem to be some extraordinary double standards amongst some (a small minority) of Liberal Democrats. Who would have thought that in this party we would have people trying to run down a candidate in a leadership election because of his Christianity?

    Just imagine if we had a candidate who was a Muslim? I fear that every prejudice in the book would be dragged out. A Hindu or a someone who believes in Shinto might survive a bit better and if the candidate was Jewish there would perhaps be all sorts of lobby groups pouring in to be helpful to that candidate; but mention that you are a Christian in this leadership electon and it brings out a strange campaigning zeal amongst the supporters of the other candidate, even though he has never been known for atheism or secularism in the past.

    I say this as a keen secularist and someone who has the great 19th Century Liberal MP, Charles Bradlaugh as a hero.

    This anti-Christianism is a relatively new prejudice within the party. When Alan Beith stood against Paddy Ashdown for the leadership I do not remember a single mention by his opponents of the fact that he was a very active Christian, a lay preacher I seem to recall. I just hope that it reflects on those who have chosen to campaign in this way and that their candidate loses as a result.

    If Liberal Democrats of all people do not defend freedom of religion , then who will?

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jun '15 - 9:32am

    Phyllis
    ‘ arent you masking what is basically bigotry by calling it ‘a matter of conscience’.’

    I’m glad you asked that because it is commonly asserted and the word ‘bigot’ is thrown around very easily these days by some in the party at their fellow Liberal Democrats. The answer is no.

    The conscience matter pertains to the definition of the word marriage, not to acceptance of people’s personal relationships. This is why there is a Liberal case to argue for conscience clauses on matters where the state wishes to enforce change which goes against the individual’s right to exercise their conscience – a number have come up in the light of Harriet Harman’s ‘Equality’ Act.

    I simply think at this stage that the party has to move to a place where those with sincerely and deeply held beliefs are tolerated – even if those people are disagreed with equally sincerely by fellow party members. We have done so in the past amidst rancour about nuclear weapons but we all managed not to resort to name-calling and abuse.

    I hope we return to this standard soon.

  • (Matt Bristol) 22nd Jun '15 - 10:00am

    Thoroughly depressed about the whole affair. Irrespective of how irate I am about how Farorn’s faith is being used for coded smear attacks on his politics, what annoys me more, really, is that no-one gets away clean. If Farron wins, he’s “‘controversial’ Christian politician Tim Farron” for any tabloid that cares to use the smear. If Lamb wins, he’s “Norman Lamb, who won despite a ‘controversial’ alleged push-polling scandal…”

    Have we learnt nothing from previous smear-heavy campaigns???

    I like both these candidates. They both have merits. Their poliitics as presented in their campaigning for the leadership are really very similar. Why, in pursuit of marginal gains in a tighter contest than anticipated, must we be subjected to more excuses to make the party a laughing stock?

  • Liberal Neil 22nd Jun '15 - 11:49am

    Well said Matt.

  • What I find a little baffling is how the party does not seem attractive to Liberal Christians. I can think of exceptions to that gross generalisation but there are lots of people who, for example, support womens rights, and are advocating churches carrying out same sex marriages but who do not see Lib Dems as their natural home.

    John Tilley, I do remember a Alan Beith’s life as an active christian coming up in that campaign. There was amongst other mentions a Newsnight report showing him preaching, but there was no nastiness in reference to his commitment . Indeed many of those who kept the party alive in the dark days were clustered around chapels; Dodds, Banks, Rushworth,Wainwright and Clare Brooks to mention a few. They were mostly nonconformists whose instincts were anti authoritarian and socially egalitarian.

  • The tabloids didn’t brand Blair or Cameron as controversial Christian politicians and they won the last 5 elections between them. If they label Farron as such then they will be taking their lead from cranky Lib Dem members.

  • Simon Fulton 22nd Jun '15 - 11:56am

    How did they get the membership data in the first place? Who allowed them?

  • Meral Hussein Ece 22nd Jun '15 - 11:58am

    John Tilley – I think you’re quite right. I can’t imagine the party led by some who has a Muslim faith or any other ‘non conformist’ faith or even colour right now. I come from a secular background, but was taught & firmly believe in respecting the religious views of others. Sadly there isn’t much of that from a vocal minority in the party.

  • (Matt Bristol) 22nd Jun '15 - 12:21pm

    “If they label Farron as such then they will be taking their lead from cranky Lib Dem members.”

    Yes Steve, that’s exactly my point.

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Jun '15 - 12:55pm

    Iain Brodie Brown

    If that great Liberal Alan Beith was standing now he would have been hounded by the vocal minority. He voted against same-sex marriage on conscience grounds. Would anyone seriously claim that he is not a Liberal to his core?

  • John Tilley 22nd Jun '15 - 1:03pm

    Iain BB 22nd Jun ’15 – 11:52am
    “…John Tilley, I do remember a Alan Beith’s life as an active christian coming up in that campaign. There was amongst other mentions a Newsnight report showing him preaching, but there was no nastiness in reference to his commitment . Indeed many of those who kept the party alive in the dark days were clustered around chapels; Dodds, Banks, Rushworth,Wainwright and Clare Brooks to mention a few. They were mostly nonconformists whose instincts were anti authoritarian and socially egalitarian.”

    Iain,
    You are as usual quite correct.  Your list of significant Liberals who really helped rebuild the party is instructive, in particular Richard Wainwright.

    Richard Wainwright as an active Methodist and someone who served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in the second world war – as well as having the garden with the biggest collection of Delphiniums in the UK – was a fascinating and inspiring influence on the party.   

    New members who have never heard of Richard Wainwright could do worse than spend two minutes reading this –

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wainwright_(politician)

  • (Matt Bristol) 22nd Jun '15 - 1:20pm

    Ian BB — you will find ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ Christians of various kinds in various parties and there is not a direct political-religious correlation. I would be very concerned if there was, and what worries me about the Farron thing is that some people seem to be arguing that there should be.

    Just as ‘evangelical’ is not one thing in Christian terminology , ‘liberal’ is not one thing either. I don’t think there has been a general election since the 1860s (when there began to be a semi-coherent ‘liberal’ doctrinal grouping within the CofE) when those who were doctrinally liberal within English Anglicanism (let alone those in any other of the several Christian denominations in the various UK nations) lined up on one side of the political divide or the other.

    I can give you case after case after case within our party history of sometimes quite extreme conservative Christians lining up alongside sometimes quite extreme agnositcs and atheists on the same side of the argument to make liberal politics a reality.

    I am a politically liberal and religiously evangelical Christian and I am allowed to exist. I wish people of all kinds would stop trying to make me not exist and wipe people like me out of history.

  • You can only invoke freedom of conscience if the argument you are advancing is a moral one. For instance some conscientious objectors argued that killing human beings was wrong in all circumstances. We may not agree but clearly their position is founded on a moral principle. None of the arguments of those that oppose gay marriage seem to be moral arguments as such and so it is incoherent to offer up freedom of conscience as a defence.

  • Bill le Breton 22nd Jun '15 - 2:34pm

    I am sure you don’t mean to Andrew R, but you are repeating the slur.

    This is a virulent negative campaign with an almost self- perpetuating energy.

    The consequence of being caught out – whoever has been caught out – actually sustains and deepens the power of the slur.

    Stephen Tall on twitter is saying it will have little effect. I think he is wrong, very wrong.

    Others concentrate on the ‘breach’ of rules on the data, but this really of a second order as compared to the damage that is being done to the Party that will last beyond this election.

    Probably mixing metaphors – Pandora’s box has been opened.

  • paul barker 22nd Jun '15 - 2:39pm

    Since it now turns out that only 600 members were polled & that was the intention from the start, the allegation of push-polling no longer makes sense, However this was still testing out negative messaging & thats what need to be looked at. The problem seems to be that a very small number of activists have developed an anti-Farron obsession, completely out of proportion to the actual criticisms. This is not new for The Party unfortunately, the same thing happened with Clegg & it needs to be sat on, firmly.

  • I would endorse what Ian said about Matt Cole’s biography of Richard Wainwright: Unfinished Business.
    A fascinating account of the world of a lifelong Liberal, and one with great tenacity. Richard stood three times for Colne Valley in five years before winning. He then lost after one term, but kept working in the area and came back again aged 55. I remember discusison in Liberal Student circles about the need for him to replace Thorpe in 1975. How different things could have been if this ‘coup attempt’ had succeeded!

  • Kevin Manley 27th Jun '15 - 12:54am

    @David Howarth this for me is the problem, as whilst Norman has rightly distanced himself from the two individuals, he does seem to be deliberately keeping the focus on the issues those individuals were push-polling on. Didn’t take him long on the Victoria Derbyshire thing the other day to bring things on to abortion, gay marriage and God. Its almost as though engaging in the push polling and then being exposed is having the desired effect. He does seem to be covertly undertaking a quite subtly negative campaign whilst dressing it up as positive, pushing anti-Tim buttons rather than pro-Norman ones, which is disappointing.

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