Goodbye Baroness Tonge, it has been a long and troubling ride

By Martin Bright, March 1, 2012

Baroness Tonge has been a one-woman running sore within the Liberal Democrat Party, poisoning relations with the Jewish community with her persistently distasteful and incendiary comments about Israel. Finally she is gone, effectively sacked after refusing to withdraw her statement during an event at Middlesex University that Israel "will not last forever". Now there is reason to believe that wound can begin to heal.

Her career as one of the Palestinian people's least effective champions began while still an MP when she said she might herself have considered becoming a suicide bomber if she found herself under Israeli occupation.

Over the years she has repeatedly evoked classic conspiracy theory language to bemoan the power of the "Israel lobby" - to the intense irritation of her colleagues and the Liberal Democrat leadership. She referred to it again in her resignation statement on Wednesday.

But, astonishingly, she managed to hold on to the whip.

When the JC interviewed Nick Clegg in September 2009, he made it clear that he would not remove the whip from the peer, as he did not view her comments at
that point as racist.

He later sacked her from the front bench after she called for an inquiry into accusations that the Israeli Defence Forces had been harvesting organs in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. But she still held the Liberal Democrat whip.

To give credit to Mr Clegg, he always said he would have no hesitation in removing the whip from the peer if he felt she had overstepped the mark. He has been as good as his word.

There have always been people within the party who have been deeply troubled by the presence of Baroness Tonge within its ranks.

Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel have had to plough a lonely furrow and the organisation deserves credit for keeping up the pressure on the leadership over the issue.

It is no surprise that the now former LibDem peer once again blamed her predicament on "the pro-Israel lobby".

It is certainly true that she was brought down by an irresistible pincer movement of right-wing bloggers. First, the neo-cons at the Commentator picked up on footage of the Middlesex University event posted by the redoubtable Richard Millett and then passed the baton to the conservative attack dogs at Guido Fawkes.

But it was probably coverage in the Guardian, not known for its Zionist views, that finally made it obvious that Nick Clegg could no longer hold on to "Jihad Jenny".

Few will lament the end to her LibDem career, too often punctuated by an irrational hatred of Israel, paranoid conspiracy theory and outright blood libel. Baroness Tonge's views were always on the wilder fringes of British politics, but her position within a mainstream political party gave her the veneer of respectability, albeit increasingly tarnished. Now she has been consigned to the margins, which is exactly where she belongs.

Last updated: 3:12pm, March 1 2012