Dear Nick Clegg, we need to talk about David Ward
Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
As I hope you know by now, I have great respect for you. I believe it took substantial courage and imagination to agree to the coalition deal and to see it through in the way that you have.
So I write now in full confidence of your goodwill and your willingness and ability to do what is right.
It’s about David Ward, your MP for Bradford East. You’ve got to do something and you need to get on with it.
At the beginning of the year, Mr Ward told Holocaust survivors like my mother that they had failed to learn the lesson of experience. They should treat people better and they don’t.
He kept pressing this opinion, and talking about Jews, until you felt that you needed to withdraw the party whip. However, as a compromise, the whip was taken away from him only while the House wasn’t sitting. I was a bit disappointed by this, but I saw the problem. You didn’t want a huge party row with him about Israel and you didn’t want to lose an MP. You thought perhaps that a warning would do.
Fair enough, I suppose. Not heroic, but fair enough. The point of my letter is to urge upon you the thought that this approach, however reasonable you thought it was, hasn’t worked.
Mr Ward will make another, probably worse, remark. It's just a matter of time
Mr Ward has now given himself of the opinion that the Board of Deputies is powerful and well financed. Your party has dismissed this as a flattering observation but I think we both know better than this. It is a classic and freighted description of a Jewish lobby that reflects Mr Ward’s view that, for financial reasons, Jews have acquired great power.
By themselves it would be easy to dismiss the comments, but the comments are not made by themselves. They form part of a pattern of remarks deeply offensive to Jews.
I am sure you would never conclude that Jews don’t matter because there aren’t many of us and we don’t live where you need us. Or that Mr Ward’s constituents will support him, and Jewish feelings are collateral damage in his election campaign. But perhaps you think this a niche problem that will go away. This is an error.
Mr Ward will make another offensive remark, probably worse than this one. It’s just a matter of time. He will do it closer to an election, in a more highly charged atmosphere, and you will be put in a very difficult position. He may also tie his remarks closely to his view of Israel, making action just as necessary but more awkward.
Your problem will be less the comments themselves than that you will be made to look weak. You will get stuck between the media on the one side and your local party organisation on the other. It will be very uncomfortable indeed.
I am not suggesting that acting even now is easy. The Board decided not to complain and you may feel it is difficult to act unilaterally. So I am sympathetic.
Yet it is far better to make a choice now, while you are in control, while the decision to escalate is yours, than to leave it until later when it is likely to be more difficult. It is a mistake to contract this out to the Board, because your problem is not this incident. It is Mr Ward’s pattern of behaviour.
If these strategic thoughts don’t convince you, let me try something a bit more direct. Mr Ward’s comments are simply not acceptable. You didn’t go into politics, surely, to stand by someone saying that Jewish money makes them powerful. Or to compare Jews to Nazis. You can’t allow yourself to be responsible for that. And you don’t have to. Because, guess what, you are the leader.
Daniel Finkelstein is Associate Editor of ‘The Times’