Monday, 26 March 2012

My Disappointment With Tim Farron Grows

When Tim Farron was first elected as Lib Dem President, there was a great deal of disquiet in the Lib Dem Twitter circles I frequent. This disquiet was especially strong with regards to his LGBT record. I didn't share this feeling, and I was quite happy to come to his defense. I even passed around this link from Stephen Gilbert to help allay fears about his history.

I was confident he would be a good counterweight to the Orange Bookers in the leadership and would keep them honest. And on that point he's been moderately successful. Unfortunately on other matters that disquiet some expressed about him has begun to erode my confidence in him as a person.

First up was his use of interns from CARE and his subsequent defence of them. This worried me because it seems quite clear that they 1) vigorously oppose Lib Dem policies on marriage equality and 2) there are rather serious concerns about their treatment of Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw (no friend of this blog!). I'm not saying he shouldn't have interns from CARE, I'm a great believer in freedom of belief religiously or politically, but I do have grave concerns about someone who takes CARE interns being Lib Dem President! But I kept my mouth shut, thinking everyone has their little quirks. Some MPs support Stonewall after all...

But then comes today's news. Tim Farron, along with Tory and Labour MPs, wants the ASA to allow organisations to state that people can be healed by prayer in their adverts. Again perhaps people should have this right, and they certainly should have the right to practice their rather optimistic beliefs. But if the ASA allows that, then what exactly is the point of the ASA? I thought one of their main tasks was to ensure false claims weren't made in advertising, but if prayer is accepted as healing people then what right does the ASA have to tell ANYONE that what they state in their adverts is false?

Is Tim Farron really suggesting we should do away with the ASA? And Daniel Furr makes an excellent point too:
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and spiritual intervention in medical cases are a fine example. People who are sick and require medical treatment should see a doctor, not God.
Again, if Tim Farron wants to propose we allow anyone to claim anything that they believe to be true in advertising then that's his prerogative but it's left me unable to support him and I will actively support opposition to him. His attempts to amend the way the ASA deals with advertisement claims brings his beliefs, unfortunately, into conflict with rationality and reason. And I stand on the side of rationality and reason.

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Free Radical said...

I think we need to be careful about restricting free speech. You make a legitimate point, but I think in this case the matter in question is pretty conspicuously one of belief. I therefore think it is unlikely that many people would be seriously misled. I conclude that intervention by the state is not warranted.

I agree that people should seek conventional treatment. Nobody appears to be arguing that prayer always works, though, so it's reasonable to suppose that it would be a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, medical care. The instinct to seek medical care is pretty strong in this country, probably partly because of the NHS.

Whether you believe or not, it's hard to argue that prayer actually harms anybody.

Anonymous said...

Wow. After his speech to conference last year I was really looking to Farron to be the person to lead the party in rebuilding after the next election. But this background gives me some serious reservations.

Concerned of Kendal said...

@Free Radical... nobody is making the argument that prayer actually harms anybody. The argument is that Farron would like organisations of a religious bent to advertise claims that have no plausible evidence as 'fact' and that the ASA asserts that the burden of proof rests upon those advertising the claims.

I also feel uneasy about Members of Parliament exercising their influence in matters concerned with religion. It shows a lack of independence of mind.

George Kendall said...

If this church were claiming people would be healed if they gave money, then I could see an argument for the advertising standards agency restricting their advertising. But if they aren't charging, just offering free prayer, that's another matter entirely.

What's the difference between what this church group did and what most political parties do when they make questionable claims in their manifestos?

Surely, all Tim Farron is doing is defend their right to freedom of speech.

Jae Kay said...

I left whether they should be allowed to make these claims open in my post. I'm a big supporter of freedom.

But the question is, if they can do so what's the point of having the ASA? If anyone can make unsubstantiated claims in advertising (for free products or not) then we may as well scrap any protection.

My concern is more to do with the content of the letter, which suggests not only is Farron defending their freedom of speech but is advocating prayer as a real solution. That leaves me gravely concerned about having him as party President.