Analysis: Even the Tories do not deserve Tonge and friends

Britain lacks a true liberal party, a movement of the radical centre which is committed unequivocally to the values of the Enlightenment. Instead, it has the Liberal Democrats, whose history all but orders it to stand firm against the forces of irrational hatred which are sweeping the world, but which ducks its moral obligations.

I can't think I have ever been more disturbed by a politician's sin of omission, than I was when Nick Clegg refused to remove the party's whip from Jenny Tonge after she asked for an "inquiry" into stories, generated by racist fantasists, that Jews were stealing the organs of Christian children in Haiti. That Lord Wallace, its foreign affairs spokesman, defended Tonge and then blamed Jews for pointing out the history of the blood libel, only added to the stink in the room.

Ignorance of the history of racism was no excuse. Nor was the Lib Dems' flirtation with Arab donors.

Their fault lies deeper than mere stupidity or financial self-interest. They come from a self-satisfied and self-righteous pseudo-liberal culture, which assumes that the prejudices of the past cannot possibly exist among its friends and supporters. So when Tonge raised, albeit in a sly and coquettish manner, a murderous legend from the heart of Europe's darkness, they lacked the intellectual breadth to understand what she was saying, and the language of anti-fascism to dissociate themselves from her.

The failure of the Lib Dems to confront conspiracy theories which have led to the murders of millions and are used by dictators across the Middle East to divert their wretched peoples from the true causes of their oppression, leaves me in an unexpected place. I am not a Tory. There have been times in my life when I have hated the Tory Party. But I have never hated them enough to wish Tonge, Clegg and Wallace on them.

Nick Cohen writes for the Observer

    Last updated: 2:05pm, May 13 2010