False allegations were made against Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron by a LGBT activist as tensions rose within the party during the election campaign over his stance on gay rights.
The MP announced his resignation as party leader on Wednesday, saying he had become “the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in”.
“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader”, he added.
His resignation came just hours after that of the party’s openly gay Home Affairs spokesman, Lord Brian Paddick, citing “concerns about the leader’s views on various issues”.
Mr Farron had come under intense scrutiny for his Anglican faith during the election campaign after he was repeatedly asked if he considered gay sex to be a sin. as he had previously said “we’re all sinners” when asked the question.
The Westmorland and Lonsdale MP, who voted in favour of same-sex marriage in 2013, eventually said he did not after two weeks of questions but later admitted he was too slow to clarify his position.
But it has now emerged that disquiet over Mr Farron’s views on social issues such as same-sex marriage was already felt within the party before the end of the election campaign.
The former chair of the party’s LGBT wing, Chris Cooke, made a series of unfounded complaints against him after he was suspended from the party for Twitter comments directed at his local Conservative MP Anna Soubry.
The student nurse tweeted that the Broxtowe MP should not be “spared the noose” over her expenses claims after it was revealed she was one of several Conservative MPs embroiled in the scandal over the party’s expense claims during the 2015 election
She screen-grabbed the tweet and her local constituency party complained to the local Lib Dems.
He later tweeted his Twitter account and friends said he had not meant to threaten her – he was just expressing a hope she would be arrested or lose her seat.
Mr Cooke, from Bramcote in Nottingham, admitted that he had sent an email to party bosses with a complaint about Mr Farron’s personal conduct while “drunk” and has since retracted.
He told the Mail on Sunday: “I felt betrayed by the party and was drunk at the time.
“It is an email I regretted sending and have retracted.
“I was just p***ed off with my suspension over a non-issue and made up a story to cause trouble.”
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The contents of the complaint have not been revealed but senior Lib Dems told the Mail that, although they knew them to be untrue, it compounded their alarm about Mr Farron’s inability to breakthrough during the election campaign which they blamed on the ongoing row over his religion.
One official, who reportedly persuaded Mr Farron to resign, said: “I was aware of the complaint and obviously I mentioned it to somebody in his office but there was nothing more than that.
“Tim’s office had no power to do anything and I had no power to do anything.”
One Mr Farron’s friends said the complaint seemed to have been “motivated by anger over the row about Tim’s beliefs”.
“Many people thought Farron was not only a liability in terms of his anti-gay views but not liberal or Left-wing enough”, he said. “‘There was a section of the party that were simply out to get him.”
Mr Cooke, who previously worked in the porn industry but is now retraining as a nurse to look after HIV patients, was invited to join the party’s Sex Work Policy Group in September 2015.
He later became the party’s LGBTQ+ chair but was reportedly replaced due to arguments about Mr Farron’s leadership a few months later.
The 33-year-old stood as a local council candidate for the former mining community of Ollerton in North Nottinghamshire but won only 126 votes out of almost 3,500 cast.
A Liberal Democrats spokesman said: “While subject of disciplinary proceedings within the party, Mr Cooke made wildly defamatory allegations. The investigation against Mr Cooke continues.”
The Independent has contacted Mr Cooke for comment.