Baroness still raising questions

By Marcus Dysch, March 8, 2012
Baroness Tonge: defiant to the end, she is now sitting as an independent peer in the Lords

Baroness Tonge: defiant to the end, she is now sitting as an independent peer in the Lords

When Baroness Tonge resumed her normal business this week, asking a Foreign Office minister about alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, observers could have been forgiven for wondering whether her query on "forced expulsion" was raised with a tinge of self-interest.

Her question in the Lords on Monday - batted away by Lord Howell - marked her first parliamentary appearance sitting as an independent peer.

A week after the 71-year-old's resignation of the Liberal Democrat whip, following her refusal to apologise for anti-Israel comments made at Middlesex University, it is clear that little will quell her efforts, despite her dispatch to the political margins.

She returned to the House on Tuesday to ask about Israeli treatment of Palestinian detainees and if the British government had pushed its Israeli counterpart to secure a peace deal.

Last week's rumpus stopped short of her full dismissal by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and is now being referred to within the party as an "enforced resignation", rather than a sacking.

Baroness Tonge, however, has not felt sufficiently forced to resign her party membership. A Lib Dem spokesman confirmed that a process is now underway to decide whether ultimately to expel her.

But this weekend's Lib Dem spring conference in Newcastle is expected to feature an appearance from the baroness. She is due to speak at a Lib Dem Friends of Palestine event on Saturday.

The event - "Is There a Future for the Arabs in Israel?" - will be chaired by Mr Clegg's deputy leader, Simon Hughes MP, and will feature Baroness Tonge alongside prominent critic of Israel Miri Weingarten, formerly of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

Mr Hughes did not respond to enquiries to clarify whether or not he would appear with Baroness Tonge.

The party spokesman confirmed that the peer would still be allowed to attend the conference but would no longer have voting rights or be permitted to speak from the conference floor during debates.

Last updated: 1:38pm, March 8 2012