David Ward is tip of a toxic iceberg for the Lib Dems

By Marcus Dysch, July 26, 2013

After months of reports about his involvement in an increasingly bizarre series of incidents, Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli scored at Old Trafford. In celebration, he raised his shirt, revealing a vest emblazoned with the words: “Why always me?”

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg may well be asking himself the same question — but he has no right to.

His party’s inability to challenge anti-Zionists who verge on antisemitism is largely of Mr Clegg’s own making. As long as he remains leader, the Lib Dems seem likely to be dogged by deeply offensive, and apparently unstoppable, figures. They remain free to act as they please, knowing that the party hierarchy is too weak to hold them to account.

In the wake of the removal of the party whip from the toxic Jenny Tonge in the Lords, along came a previously unheard of MP, David Ward.

A former polytechnic lecturer and county councillor, Mr Ward scraped into Parliament with a shock win at the 2010 election, taking the Bradford East seat by just 365 votes. Mr Clegg would never have guessed that such an apparently dull figure could become the source of such controversy.

Once, chief whips would have been able to keep their MPs under tight control in Westminster. But backbencher Mr Ward has used his Twitter account and blog to propagate his views in a way that would once never have been possible.

Perhaps technology is why the Lib Dems’ handling of Mr Ward since January has been so shambolic.

Mr Clegg and chief whip Alistair Carmichael made feeble attempts to solve the problem — twice attempting to make Mr Ward sit down with Jewish Lib Dems, only to see the plans fall apart when first Lib Dem Friends of Israel and then two peers decided that his constant tweeting about the issue showed his lack of contrition.

So hopeless were the party’s attempts to manage the story that even once the decision had been taken to remove the whip, the Lib Dem media office was beaten to the punch when details were leaked to the BBC.

Mr Carmichael complained that the party had found it “immensely frustrating” to be “constantly responding” to questions about Mr Ward’s comments. Yet he and Mr Clegg could have nipped the problem in the bud by acting rapidly in January.

But they failed, and as a result, Mr Ward was afforded the time to use anti-Zionist rhetoric as a cover for his earlier, and most offensive, Holocaust-related remarks.

When news of his suspension emerged, the national media largely focused on his thoughts on Israel, rather than his views on “the Jews”. He will now act, look and feel to many like a martyr, rather than what he should have been — a shamed dissident facing deselection.

The Lib Dem problem with Israel seems never-ending; Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell was criticised earlier this month for appearing to equate the situation facing the Palestinians with the Holocaust.

Why always the Lib Dems? Mr Clegg has repeatedly shown his reluctance to do the right thing, choosing to protect his party’s electoral interests first and foremost.

Last updated: 1:45pm, July 26 2013