Smelling blood, Labour Party activists then managed to find a decade-old interview in which Mr. Farron told an obscure magazine associated with the Salvation Army that he thought abortion was “wrong” and that “personally, I wish I could argue it away.” Once again under fire from the media, he rather unheroically replied, “The quote on abortion is not a publication I’ve ever heard of, or read, or seen!”
Nowhere among the traditional party of liberty was there any sense that people might hold a range of views on a highly contentious and divisive subject, one on which 43 percent of the public hold views not dissimilar to Mr. Farron's.
Mr. Farron was criticised for failing to stand up for his beliefs. Certainly he did not exactly appear as a latter-day Thomas More or Hugh Latimer, but perhaps he thought it was more important to prevent Britain leaving the European Union – an inner moral dilemma that St. Thomas More might have appreciated.
But his failure to stand up for those beliefs sets a troublesome precedent, for if powerful politicians aren't allowed to hold unpopular beliefs – ones that do not affect their voting record – what hope is there for the rest of us? One of the disturbing trends of our age is that many young people feel that they cannot reveal their opinions in public, and that (perhaps internalising it) politics should be kept private. This is partly because social media and campuses are dominated by angry radicals who rarely meet dissenting opinions. But young people also suspect, perhaps rightly, that their employment prospects might be affected if they hold the wrong view.
The Liberal Democrats were born of a merger between the Liberal Party and the moderate Labour breakaway the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Although Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously stated that the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than Marx, the Liberals in particular developed out of Nonconformism and a core of nineteenth century activists who wanted to both eliminate poverty and save souls. My father's English family mostly came from the Liberal tradition; many were from the East Midlands, an especially strong Parliamentary area during the civil war which also saw heavy Puritan migration to the colonies, and they were firm nonconformists. Many of them moved to industrial parts of London and Liverpool to set up chapels, build schools for the poor, and get the locals to abstain from alcohol. Barred from the universities until the mid-nineteenth century, the freedom of conscience was precious to them.
This strain of Protestantism gave birth to British Liberalism, but modern progressivism is more widely a sort of Christian heresy (even Mr. Farron's reference to the current year is a progressive idea combining Christian eschatology and Marxism). It sprang up with the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which for a while led to two competing cultural norms in the Western world: traditional European mores – which were heavily Christian – and a more secular belief system of progress, with its devotion to equality, the protection of minorities, and a new conception of human rights. For a while, it seemed possible in Europe to accommodate people with a range of views. But a tipping point came around the millennium, when the new faith became too powerful – especially at the top of society where attractive, high-status ideas were enthusiastically adopted in academia and the media.
And so across Europe, the range of acceptable opinions in the professions has shrunk. In Great Britain, a number of people have faced disciplinary action at work or even been investigated by police for their views on controversial issues such as sexuality, including a Christian from Manchester who was found guilty of gross misconduct by his publicly funded housing association for writing that allowing gay weddings in churches was an “equality too far.” He had posted this opinion on Facebook and, after a disciplinary hearing, he was downgraded from his £35,000-a-year ($44,000) managerial job to a much less senior £21,000 ($27,000) role.