It seems that these days our expectation not to be offended takes precedence over the basic human right to Free Speech – a point on which David Cameron might like ruefully to reflect, as he reviews the overheated reaction to his remarks on Pakistan.
Only nine days before the recent General Election, a Conservative candidate in Scotland was fired by the Party for expressing an honest opinion which, but for the activity of a strident lobby group, might not have been regarded as controversial.
Philip Lardner was the candidate, in North Ayrshire and Arran. This was a clearly unwinnable Labour seat, which may explain why the Party was willing to dump its candidate after nominations had closed, when it was too late to select a new one. Philip is a Christian, a school teacher, and, as it happens, the Freedom Association’s point man in Scotland. His offence was to express an honest and traditional view on the place of homosexuality in education.
Reading the words complained of, the overall impression is of a reasonable, careful man, falling over himself to be courteous and respectful – indeed almost apologetic. He affirms his respect for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. He insists that homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else. See http://www.philiplardner.com/page_1261274765870.html But as a Christian, he expresses his view that homosexuality is not “an equally valid alternative lifestyle”, and that as a Christian teacher, he is not prepared to teach his pupils that it is.
This is a traditional view with which many Christians (and most Muslims), and indeed many citizens of no particular religion, but of a broadly conservative turn of mind, would agree. But the Conservative Party, desperate to appease the strident homosexual zealots in the run-up to the election, felt his comments were so flagrant that it fired him as a candidate. This despite the fact that most Conservative Party members and activists (in all probability, and in my opinion) would agree with Philip. For my own part, I agree with every word that he wrote.
It is not my style to call-in-aid the European Convention on Human Rights, but I recall that Article 8 mandates the right to a private life; Article 9 the right to manifest one’s religion and beliefs; and Article 10, freedom of expression. So Philip’s remarks, and his right to make them, were clearly protected by the ECHR. But the Conservative Party, despite its new-found enthusiasm for all things European (like a Diplomatic Service and an EU Investigation Order) was not prepared to respect them.
It’s worth recalling the excellent tradition in politics that moral questions, like capital punishment, are treated as issues of conscience and not normally whipped, so it is particularly disappointing that in this case an issue of conscience was treated as a hanging offence. The Party announced that it had also ejected Philip from the Party, but it seems that this was ultra vires, and that he remains, in spite of everything, a member. I hope very much that in the future this decent and honourable man will again be a Conservative Candidate.
And the outcome of the election? Despite (or perhaps because of) being disowned by the Conservative Party, Philip came a respectable third in this safe Scottish Labour seat, with 15% of the vote, beating the Lib-Dems into fourth place.