Re­pel­lent ex-MP ditched at last Xo Óhc <Wh­hed

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY MAR­CUS DYSCH

TIM FAR­RON got there in the end, un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously sack­ing David Ward, de­priv­ing him of even a courtesy phone call to tell him he had been ditched.

But one big ques­tion re­mains from this new chap­ter in the story of one of the most re­pel­lent char­ac­ters in the party’s re­cent his­tory — why did it take the Lib­eral Democrats so long to reach the con­clu­sion Mr Ward was a toxic in­flu­ence?

The will to tackle an­ti­semitism within the party has been there all along for Mr Far­ron.

Sit­ting in his West­min­ster of­fice over­look­ing Big Ben last Oc­to­ber, the Lib Dem leader made clear to me he would not stand for the sort of Je­whate com­ments and slurs which have dogged op­po­nents in the Labour Party.

He said he was “very sin­cere”. I be­lieved him then, and I be­lieve him now. The Cum­brian is an hon­est man, al­beit one prone to slip-ups, such as in the past week with his com­ments on gay sex.

And his party has a small but hard­work­ing group of Jewish ac­tivists and aides who have made it bla­tantly clear to him since his elec­tion as leader in 2015 that Mr Ward, and the party’s for­mer peer Baroness Tonge, repulse Jewish vot­ers.

A year ago, after Mr Ward won a lo­cal coun­cil seat and tweeted in sup­port of Labour MP Naz Shah’s own an­ti­semitic so­cial me­dia posts, Mr Far­ron en­sured that he was swiftly re­buked. The party de­liv­ered a warn­ing about his fu­ture con­duct.

Per­haps the prob­lem in this lat­est episode was due to the Lib Dems’ over­com­pli­cated in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dures.

The public might ex­pect it to be a sim­ple mat­ter of a party leader pick­ing up the phone and or­der­ing the sack­ing of a mi­nor fig­ure. It is not al­ways that easy.

Se­nior fig­ures in party HQ were tear­ing their hair out on Wed­nes­day as they watched first the me­dia, then the Prime Min­is­ter, lay into their leader for fail­ing to dis­pose of Mr Ward.

Mr Far­ron’s clos­est aides were des­per­ate to ditch the poor man’s Ken Liv­ing­stone, but had to fol­low the rule­book.

Polling sug­gested that Mr Ward would have un­seated Labour in­cum­bent Im­ran Hus­sain, the man who beat him by more than 7,000 votes two years ago.

But party of­fi­cials were un­re­lent­ing, and found a way to get him out, us­ing a loop­hole that cir­cum­vented re­stric­tions in ef­fect over the elec­tion pe­riod.

It would be fair to ask why they had not thought about the po­ten­tial dam­age his can­di­dacy would cause be­fore he was se­lected, or in­deed last week when Mr Ward was mer­rily tweet­ing about his in­ten­tion to stand.

Let’s be gen­er­ous and say the sur­prise call­ing of the elec­tion left the Lib Dems, like many oth­ers in West­min­ster, play­ing catch up.

It re­mains to be seen how badly this un­wel­come Ward se­quel af­fects the party’s chances of at­tract­ing Jewish vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly those dis­af­fected Labour Jews who Mr Far­ron was so keen to throw an arm round six months ago.

Cyn­ics will, of course, say Mr Far­ron’s at­tempt to woo Jews was po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunism which back­fired and that if he was gen­uine in his in­ten­tions Mr Ward would have got nowhere near be­ing se­lected.

Per­haps. But the Lib Dem leader and his col­leagues should at least be con­grat­u­lated for act­ing so swiftly on Wed­nes­day to en­sure that the main­stream po­lit­i­cal ca­reer of this for­mer Leeds Polytech­nic fi­nance lec­turer ends — de­servedly — in ig­nominy.

PHOTO: PA

David Ward with for­mer Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in 2010

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