Lib Dems defend deselection of pro-life Christian candidate

The Liberal Democrats have rejected the suggestion they discriminated against one of their candidates because of his Christian faith.

Rob Flello told Premier on Wednesday that he was deselected from standing in the election after the party learnt about his views on gay marriage and abortion.

But the party claims it wasn't his views, but instead how he expressed those views on social media.

At an event on Thursday launching the Lib Dems' plans for equality and human rights, Baroness Sal Brinton, the President of the Liberal Democrats and also a Christian, told Premier there are pro-life politicians who do not express their views in the same way as Mr Flello.

She said: "The issue about voting matters on moral issues are very clear and, in common with other parties, we don't have a whip on those. I think the difficulty that our candidates team hadn't picked up was his language and retweeting on social media, which went beyond the sort of dialogue that you would expect from a liberal.

"We absolutely understand and respect the right of every Christian to have their views, but many Christians follow slightly different pathways, slightly different interpretations. As a Liberal Democrat, we expect tolerance and understanding of the other side and unfortunately some of the things that Rob had retweeted went beyond that and would absolutely not be seen as something that Liberals should do."

When asked which retweets barred him from standing for parliament, she said: "Very unpleasant pro-life ones that were very aggressive about doctors and nurses and indeed women who'd had abortions, without necessarily knowing the cause. It's very much an image of the campaigning that we see a lot in America and it's not commonplace in the UK."

She said prospective parliamentary candidates have a higher standard of code of conduct than Liberal Democrat members: "We expect them to respect and understand other people and to put forward their views carefully and in consideration for others and, unfortunately, those tweets just weren't that."

When asked if a pro-life candidate could have stood if they hadn't tweeted about it 'unpleasantly', Baroness Brinton replied: "Yeah, quite probably. Absolutely, and we have candidates who will feel that way and any of your listeners who have sat at churches for hustings in general elections will have heard from candidates who have pro-life views but it is how they're expressed that's the issue."

"I think for a Christian who is involved in politics, it's that ability to say 'Actually, I disagree with your views. I hold this because of my faith but I'll do so in a courteous way'. Being very aggressive just is beyond what is acceptable."

The Lib Dems' equality and human rights proposals, announced on Thursday, include funds to protect places of worship from attack, to protect those persecuted for their religious belief around the world and plans to lay the foundations for allowing gay marriage in the Church of England and Church in Wales.

Baroness Brinton explained it would still be up to the Church ultimately, though: "I was part of the group in the House of Lords that supported the amendments. It's important to say that neither what we we're doing in Parliament nor what the Liberal Democrats are saying is that the Church of England and the Church in Wales should perform same-sex marriages in church. What we are trying to do is to get the enabling legislation through Parliament so that at the moment at which the General Synod decides that it wants to do it, Parliament isn't going to slow anything down. It's about laying the groundwork for that."


15 Nov 2019

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