For many years the go-to reference for Christians talking about engagement politics was Alistair Campbell’s We don’t do God. It was the time when faith and politics made it into the mainstream news, and it seemed as though every talk encouraging Christian involvement was required to debunk the suggestion that politicians shouldn’t ‘do’ God.

Tony Blair’s former spokesman and campaign director can sleep easy knowing that he is no longer invoked with quite the same frequency by those such as I who are passionate about Christians having a voice in politics and bringing God into all things they do. And the reason is because Tim Farron is now the essential reference point. 

Since his departure as Liberal Democrat leader immediately after the 2017 general election, the treatment and fate of Farron is the case study that must be grappled with in deciding whether there is a ceiling to Christian engagement in politics.

In his biography Farron recounts his experience, both when he became leader in 2015 and on the campaign trail in 2017, of intense media scrutiny around his beliefs on human sexuality. This is not the only part of the book that is worthy of attention, but it is the part that will prompt many to pick it up and hear the politician take the time in his own words to set out what happened and why. 

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On the very day Farron became leader he was questioned by Channel 4 news about his views, and throughout the election campaign in 2017 the same questions plagued him, until he uttered words that he later recanted after he resigned. 

As an evangelical Christian at the forefront of politics, Farron sought to tread a fine line between his views as a politician commented to liberalism and a believer whose faith led him to hold to an orthodox view of sexual relationships.

A Better Ambition takes considerable time to set out the events of the 2017 campaign and the pressure it clearly put Farron under. It explains both the difficulty with which he attempted to move the media attention off his views about homosexuality and onto the party’s main messages and his internal struggles as his faith and views were publicly interrogated.

However, the book is not just about a string of media interviews that Farron is now well known for. It is the story of a man committed to politics and to serving his constituency, his party and his country. It is instructive for Christians to understand his passion and his commitment to politics. The book jumps about chronologically a little, starting with setting the scene of the high-profile scrutiny of the 2017 campaign, and then tracking through his life to the point of his resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

For those unfamiliar with his career, it is a well-written account of the highs and lows of political life. For those who think they know Farron, there are plenty of insights to enjoy. Somewhat disappointingly he didn’t reflect on his first attempt to enter parliament in 1992 at the age of 21 when he and Theresa May stood for their respective parties and lost to then Labour MP Hillary Armstrong.

Having reached a point in his career that he defines as post ambition’, Farron is committed to helping Christians engage in public life and speaking up for liberalism in a political system. And although he doesn’t say this explicitly, a party whose liberalism has eaten itself. By this he means where toleration of people is elevated to such an extent that it is intolerant of people who disagree.

The oddest feature of the book is the penultimate chapter on redeeming liberalism’. This is clearly his passion and he takes a break from the personal narrative to indulge in a spot of political philosophy. I describe it as odd, not because it’s bad – it’s not – but because it is somewhat out of place in the book. I wonder if it would have been better preserved for a separate book, but that book might not be read by the audience he wants to reach, so he smuggles in a manifesto for a truly liberal politics, which accommodates differences with respect rather than squeezes them out beneath the guise of tolerance. I guess I can only hope for a follow-up that explores this in more depth

This book will be an enjoyable read for political aficionados and those who only know of Farron through newspaper headlines. It’s easy to read and a compelling account of a fascinating political life.

A Better Ambition by Tim Farron is available to buy now.