Interview: Tim Farron

Lib Dems' straight-talking former president could be peacemaker


Tim Farron, the likeable Lake District MP heavily tipped to be the next Liberal Democrat leader, is his party's new spokesman on foreign affairs and he clearly relishes the challenge.

He accepts though that "one is not going to be able to cover every base in the time we've got before a general election, so you know that it's about concentrating on issues that are most live, and that the Liberal Democrats consider most important".

This includes the Chilcot inquiry report into the Iraq war, with the Lib Dems continuing to push for its release before the election.

The wider situation in the Middle East remains of vital importance, too. As an evangelical Christian, Mr Farron says: "I have respect for people of faith, who are of a faith background, and you'd have to be a little bit ignorant to not see the Middle East in that context".

Unfortunately for him, it is when discussing these issues, particularly Israel, that his party frequently hits trouble.

Their MP David Ward remains a cloud that hangs over every discussion on the Middle East for the Lib Dems. Not that Mr Farron has much time for his colleague's comments, which he condemns as "offensive, and insensitive."

He believes that Mr Ward "has every right to make the views that he holds known, it terms of the actions of the Israeli government… but there is a massive difference between being critical of the Israeli government, and saying things that are offensive to Jewish people in general, and indeed of questioning the right of Israel to exist.

Of Mr Ward's most recent outburst, when he described himself as feeling "sick" that Prime Minister Netanyahu joined other world leaders at a rally in Paris after the terror attacks there, Mr Farron says: "Jewish people had been killed. Why wouldn't the head of Israel be entitled to come along to that?"

Mr Farron himself believes that "Israel's reactions have often been overreactions, and their occupation and treatment of many Palestinians is wrong."

But he is certainly a friend of the country, constantly reiterating his belief in its right to exist and defend itself.

He sees the ability to disagree with some of the Israeli government's actions as a key part of this relationship - "a good friend, and I hope we are a good friend to Israel, says to Israel 'what you often do is counterproductive…"

He says "British politics as a whole, not just the Lib Dems, has a habit of focusing on Israel's crimes, and not on the crimes of Hamas."

This, he argues, is because the Lib Dems "see Israel as the grown up, and there's a sense in which as a democratic country you expect higher levels of morality and responsibility."

Yet the question of how little action the Lib Dems have taken on antisemitism lingers.

Mr Farron points out that Chris Davies has been removed from a leadership role in the European Parliament, Jenny Tonge lost the whip, while David Ward "has been punished on numerous occasions, has no party responsibilities, and had the whip suspended".

He declines to say whether leader Nick Clegg should have told Mr Ward to follow Baroness Tonge out the door, refusing to "give a running commentary" on the disciplinary process in which, as party president, he was heavily involved.

This straight-talking, evangelical Christian from Lancashire, does not seem the likeliest of candidates to be the man to help rebuild bridges, but he might just be his party's best bet.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive