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Chris Whitehouse: Illiberalism in the Liberal Democrats should set alarm bells ringing for the party's future | Conservative Home

Chris Whitehouse leads his lobbying agency, Whitehouse Communications, and has worked in Westminster politics for over forty years.

Whatever happened to tolerance in liberalism? It has been abandoned by the Liberal Democrats who seem determined to drive out freedom of religion and belief from their ranks in a concerted attempt to secularise their parliamentary candidate selection processes, as the case of David Campanale demonstrates.

Openly a Christian throughout the nearly four decades I have known him, Campanale was legitimately selected as candidate for the Lib Dem target seat of Sutton and Cheam, being vacated by Paul Scully at the coming general election. Yet he was selected later to be the subject to a vitriolic campaign of persecution for his religious beliefs. He was subjected to a vote of no confidence, which the secularisation lobby won, and he lost the nomination as parliamentary candidate.

I don’t claim Campanlale and I were ever great friends. In 1986 he took up a position in the office of David Alton, the then Liberal Chief Whip,  whilst I hovered around the centre to centre-right of the Conservative MPs for whom I then worked. But, we did find ourselves allies on key cross-party issues that had, at least until then, been widely and consistently considered issues of conscience by the main parties.

He earned my grudging admiration for the way he counter-culturally adhered to his Christian principles, and the positions that he derived from them, whilst pursuing a successful career as a journalist at the otherwise consistently “progressive” BBC, where he was also an NUJ organiser who was consistently willing to speak truth unto power in the BBC management.

We have now seen how the worm has turned. Friends of Campanale have identified that his treatment potentially contravenes our anti-discrimination legislation and have taken his case to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with support from across the spectrum of Christians. But not from them alone: Muslims are also speaking out.

Indeed, anybody hoping to forge a political career in the Liberal Democrats, but who upholds the teachings of a faith that drives their convictions in public life, policy, and legislation, needs to realise that if the bell tolls for Campanale, it tolls for them as well.

When did everything start to go so horribly wrong for the party of William Gladstone for whom faith was a guiding star in public life?

Looking back, it hardly seemed momentous at the time, but it was when that former Alton felt that on taking his seat in the Lords in 1997 he could not in conscience do so as a Liberal Democrat, but chose instead to sit as a Crossbencher, from which benches he has been a champion of human rights in its widest sense ever since – so much so that he has been personally sanctioned by China for shining a light on their brutal repression of minorities and contrary political voices.

The reason back then was, breaking with convention, the Liberal Democrats had made a commitment to promoting abortion rights as a matter of party policy. This is not the place to debate the merits or demerits of abortion rights, but one has to ask the question as to why the party drove out one of its own who was renowned for his work as a councillor in Liverpool, and then as a champion in Parliament for his constituents.

But the two Davids aren’t the only ones. Remember poor Tim Farron? A hugely successful and prominent Liberal Democrat, he was elected their party leader in 2015, but he didn’t last two years. He was hounded from office by the secularists in the Lib Dem midst for his Christian position which made him unable to endorse same-sex marriage, and he stepped down in June 2017 with the statement:

“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader. A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment. To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me.”

We don’t have to share all Farron’s, Alton’s, and Campanale’s detailed beliefs to realise how impoverished the Liberal Democrats have left themselves by the secularist drive to eliminate wrongthink from their ranks.

And for all those of whatever faith who feel drawn to the Liberal Democrats, be clear: they don’t want you. Do not ask not for whom that bell tolls – it tolls for thee!

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