Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Farron vs. the ASA

Tim Farron, (Photo credit Telegraph Newpaper)
Yesterday there was a tweet-storm about Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats, signing a cross-party letter of complaint to Lord Smith of Finsbury, the chairman of the Advertising Standard Authority after it was ruled that the advert  "NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!... We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness." fell foul of ASA guidelines.  The letter can be read here as first published on the Total Politics blog site.

Technicalities first.  It is the ASA's remit to ensure that adverts are legal, decent, honest and truthful.  The problem with "Need Healing?" is that it is a matter of subjective judgement whether the statement is truthful.  If somebody has been healed, good for them but it is impossible to prove beyond the affirmation of witnesses to the event.  Owing to the subjective nature of the claim, the ASA is therefore correct to call for the leaflet to be withdrawn. If they did not, any advert would be acceptable, no matter how outrageous the claim.  The letter's call for negative proof is simply wrong-headed because the same standard has to be applied across all advertising.

Tim Farron has been subsequently criticised, with some not-so-veiled calls to overthrow him as party president.  These calls I do not share.  Tim is doing a great job in hard times for all of us; his talent, energy, enthusiasm and conviction are top-draw.  The party is fortunate to have him.  There are also those who have criticised Tim for believing that faith can heal.  I don't recall ever seeing a document where Tim says something like "don't take your medication because God will see you well."  To jump from one to the other is a leap than some are unfairly accusing him of.

What are more disturbing are the undercurrents; the implied question "should such a committed Christian be this high-profile role while still affirming his faith?"  Now I know that some Liberal Democrats are unsympathetic towards religious belief.  If one demands objective proof in every aspect of their lives, well that is their call.  One can see and respect the logic.  Others of us have subjective experiences which are outside objective proof and it is in that realm of the subjective that faith can be found.  Does that make a religious person less reasonable or more misguided?  According to some, yes.  What I would say to those then is judge the individual upon their results, as you would judge any other individual.

I have a mate who farms a small-holding in Cumbria.  He told me that he had discussed Tim Farron with others in the local pub.  During the discussion Tim was described as a "God Botherer" and his veganism doesn't go down well with sheep farmers.  But the consensus was "Aye, we'll vote for him." People like and respect Tim Farron because not only is he different, he is brave enough not to hide it and he just get on with his job, which he does well, while still being his own man.  

And if that doesn't impress Liberal Democrats of all backgrounds, I don't know what will.

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