- but it is not for LibDem leaders to sack himIn 2004, then MP Jenny Tonge was removed from her position as a party spokesman by Charles Kennedy for making the following remark: "If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself." pointing out that " …having seen the violence, humiliation and provocation that the Palestinian people live under every day and have done since their land was occupied by Israel, I could understand …" She made these comments after spending time with families in Palestine, and I believe reacted personally as a mother and grandmother. The party did not remove the whip, though, and it was a personal tragedy which caused her to give up her Richmond Park seat. After a few years she resumed public life, was made a life peer and fought again for her humanitarian cause, as detailed in Felicity Arbuthnot's article. (The article is wrong in one respect: the party in the Lords did not remove the whip. The Baroness voluntarily withdrew and now sits as an independent Liberal Democrat. I am grateful to Lord Greaves for this correction.)
Bradford East MP David Ward tweeted recently: "The big question is - if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes,". Not "might just consider", as Tonge said, but "probably yes". Last year he condemned "the Jews" for "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza". He had the party whip withdrawn temporarily for that outburst and looks likely to be disciplined similarly this time.
According to the Bradford Telegraph, "a Labour spokesman said: 'At a time when all sides should be working for a ceasefire and a peaceful settlement, it defies belief that a Liberal Democrat MP should tweet something so vile and irresponsible.'" Interestingly, there is no indication as to whether that spokesman was speaking from London or Bradford. I would guess the former. Local Labour will be keen to keep onside the large Muslim population, having lost the Bradford West seat in 2012 to George Galloway, long associated with Arab and Muslim causes. I don't expect to see the headline "Bradford Labour candidate condemns Hamas" any time soon. The comments to the online Bradford Telegraph are predominantly sympathetic to Ward.
As I started writing this posting, I had half an ear on a programme about John Wilkes. It is clear that I would have been with the establishment of the day in rejecting his xenophobic stance, as I am over Nigel Farage. However, it was a check to democracy for Wilkes to be prevented from taking a parliamentary seat to which he had been elected - six times before he eventually succeeded. I believe that Ward was less courageous than Tonge - there are probably more readers of the Jewish Chronicle in Richmond upon Thames than there are in Bradford East. I also condemn the racist tone of his earlier comments. But I am with Jonathan Brown, writing on Liberal Democrat Voice, when he says: "If his tweets are offensive, it is for the electorate to sack him should they wish, not his colleagues."