Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Jenny Tonge witch-hunt steps up

Following the very similar briefings against Baroness Tonge in both (not surprising) and Private Eye (very surprising in an organ which prides itself on digging to the roots of apparently disinterested reports), leader of the House of Commons David Lidington himself lit a brand just now. It is one thing to criticise a member of the Upper House for his or her views or for the company he or she keeps, but Mr Lidington went too far in instructing Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron to revoke Jenny Tonge's membership of the party. Even if it were in his gift (quite properly, such judgments are made by properly-constituted machinery within the English party), I trust that Tim would resist any move to expel a member based on third-party reports.

Let us be clear. Jenny Tonge is not an antisemite. (The briefings carefully do not state that she is, knowing that such an assertion would be actionable. However, their insinuations are practically as damaging.) Her only crimes are to criticise the discriminatory actions of the Likud-run Israeli government, to point out how dependent the state of Israel is on support from both private and public funds from the United States, and to protest at the war crimes committed by sections of the Israel Defence Force. It is this last which has probably made her the target of a "my country right or wrong" faction. She is one of the few people from the UK, on either side of the debate, who has actually witnessed the effects on Palestinian and Arab families of the heavy-handed reprisals of the IDF.

If the government is able to push membership parties to expel people who criticise the human rights records of administrations abroad on whose good terms they desire to remain, where will it end? Will criticism of Saudi Arabia be suppressed? Mrs May would clearly like it to be, judging by the way Mr Corbyn disconcerted her at Wednesday's session with a question about Yemen. Given the way the Conservatives are putting the UK's future in hock to China, the People's Republic would surely follow.

[Update at 16:00] BBC Radio news has just announced that Baroness Tonge's membership has been suspended. I await details.

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