The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, Brian Paddick, has resigned from his post, citing concerns about the party leader’s views.
Paddick said he was concerned about the leader’s views on various issues that were highlighted during the campaign. Throughout the election campaign, Tim Farron was dogged by questions over his attitude to homosexuality and abortion, though he has insisted he does not believe gay sex is a sin and has said he is pro-choice.
The Lib Dem peer, formerly the Metropolitan police’s deputy assistant commissioner and the UK’s most senior gay police officer, has stood as the party’s mayoral candidate in past elections.
Farron has made it clear to allies he believes the party has made significant progress in the general election and he has no intention of standing down. The Lib Dem leader still enjoys wide support from much of the party membership, particularly for his uncompromising stance on remaining in the EU.
On Wednesday morning, the Lib Dems announced they would hold a deputy leadership election amid reports that MPs were mulling a leadership challenge. The party gained four seats from the eight it won in 2015, and ran several others very close.
However, several MPs lost their seats, including the former party leader Nick Clegg and the Richmond Park byelection winner, Sarah Olney. The MP lost her seat to Zac Goldsmith by less than 50 votes.
Several prominent former MPs won back seats they lost in the 2015 election, including former cabinet ministers and coalition frontbenchers Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson.
Farron’s majority was slashed from more than 9,000 to about 700 votes. Sources close to the leadership said he was determined to stay on, given pre-election predictions that the party would lose seats.
Despite seat gains,some in the party also expressed doubts about focusing the campaign on a second EU referendum and Farron’s appearances were dominated by questions about his views on gay sex and later on abortion.
Asked several times during the campaign whether he believed gay sex was a sin, having previously told Channel 4 News “we’re all sinners”, Farron repeatedly said he was not prepared to make theological pronouncements, before insisting he did not believe it was a sin and that he was pro-life.
One senior Lib Dem source suggested that loyalty to the party had prevented people raising their concerns publicly during the election campaign.
Senior party figures believe the party’s election performance was significantly affected by stories about Farron, including in progressive metropolitan areas such as Sheffield Hallam and Leeds North West, where Clegg and his fellow Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland lost their seats to Labour.
The party also failed to win back Bermondsey and Old Southwark in south London, where Simon Hughes lost ground in his former seat to Labour’s Neil Coyle, who took the seat in 2015.
However, Farron’s leadership has given the party a clean break from the coalition government, having never been a minister and having voted against measures such as tuition fees and the bedroom tax. Cable, Davey and Swinson were all members of the coalition who backed unpopular measures.
“It’s a dilemma,” a Lib Dem source said. “It’s an opportunity also to have a first female leader, but there are some who feel anybody as leader who was part of the coalition government would be poisonous. That’s the conundrum.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Farron said the time had come for a deputy leader, given the party had elected a number of new women MPs when only men were elected in 2015. Swinson, who won her East Dunbartonshire seat from the Scottish National party, will be favourite to take the position unless a leadership challenger to Farron emerges.