Repellent ex-MP ditched at last Xo Óhc <Whhed
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.
David Ward with former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in 2010