Viewpoint: Rob Flello's deselection should worry true liberals

  • James Somerville-Meikle

Rob Flello

Rob Flello

It's standard election news. Party puts up candidate who has said or done something particularly stupid. Press publish details of the embarrassing story. Candidate offers grovelling apology and survives, or they are swiftly removed by central office. It's textbook journalism and sadly all too familiar.

But what if the misdemeanour is expressing views which most Christian people believe? Maybe you dare to suggest that sex selective abortions are wrong. Perhaps you question whether it's right that abortion is pretty much available on demand in this country.

That was the crime of Rob Flello - who was the Lib Dem's candidate for Stoke on Trent South. He was removed just two days before nominations closed on account of 'how greatly his values diverge from ours' [the party]. This seems to be almost entirely because of views held on account of his Catholic faith.

For anyone who genuinely believes in freedom of conscience, this is extremely worrying.

You may not be Catholic. You may not agree with Rob's views. But does that mean he shouldn't be allowed to stand as a candidate for one of our national parties? It is not illegal to hold or express the views that he has about abortion - although some may wish it were - and they happen to be the views of many of the 1.3 billion Catholics in the world.

If we disallow people to stand for public office because we disagree with them, we are on a very slippery slope.

You might recognise Rob's name. He was a prominent Catholic Labour MP for Stoke on Trent South until 2017, when he lost to the Conservatives. He left Labour because he "no longer recognised" the party, and has now discovered that the Liberal Democrats are, not very liberal.

For those who have been keeping an eye on Lib Dem politics, Rob's case is not entirely surprising. The party is becoming an increasingly hostile place for people who believe in God.

It was Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government who pushed for the arbitrary faith schools admission cap. A policy which has made it effectively impossible for any new Catholic free schools to open. In 2017 a motion was passed at their party conference to ban state funding for faith schools all together.

In Wales, the only Lib Dem in the Labour controlled administration, is wielding an axe to religious education. Kirsty Williams is currently trying to redefine RE beyond anything that looks like an education in religion. Under plans announced last month, parents will also lose the right to decide if they don't want to their child to attend sex education lessons.

This unsympathetic stance is nothing new. The party broke ranks in adopting a policy in support of abortion in the 1990s, when it was still widely regarded as a matter of conscience. The decision forced the then MP - David Alton - to leave the party, long before Tim Farron found his views on same sex marriage made it impossible to be leader. The party has also adopted policy on assisted dying - another area previously the preserve of conscience.

Rob Flello has found out to his cost that in cases where conscience comes up against party policy, policy wins out. The psyche in the modern 'liberal' party seems to be that you can believe what you like, so long as it happens to be the same as them. It's not so much a broad church, more a narrow creed, and seems completely at odds with traditional liberal thinking. The example of William Gladstone as a committed Christian and statesman as been written off as a Victorian novelty.

I know there are still many Christians - of all denominations - who continue to support the Liberal Democrats and will vote for them at this election. The question is whether the party truly supports them.

James Somerville-Meikle is Head of Public Affairs at the Catholic Union


Tags: James Somerville-Meikle, Catholic Union, Rob Flello

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