Lib Dem members on David Ward: majority say his comments were wrong – but majority also say party wrong to suspend him

by Stephen Tall on July 29, 2013

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

We asked about the party’s decision to suspend the whip from Bradford MP David Ward. This followed controversy in February when ha made controversial comments about Jews (David Ward summoned by Clegg after ‘Jews’ comments – BBC) and then again in July when he tweeted calling Israel an “apartheid state” and saying that “Zionists” were “losing the battle (MP David Ward has Lib Dem whip withdrawn over Israel comment – BBC).

54% say David Ward’s comments were wrong; but 53% say party was wrong to withdraw whip

David WardLib Dem MP for Bradford East David Ward has had the party whip temporarily withdrawn following controversial comments he has made regarding Israel. Which of these statements most closely matches your own view?

    21% – I support the whip being withdrawn temporarily

    17% – I think the whip should remain withdrawn until he apologises for his comments

    16% – I disagree with his comments but oppose the whip being withdrawn

    37% – I oppose the whip being withdrawn and support his right to continue speaking out in this way

    8% – Don’t know

An interestingly split response. While a clear majority of Lib Dem members disagreed with David Ward’s comments (54%, summing the first three options), a clear majority also oppose the decision of the party leadership to remove the whip until at least 13th September (53%, summing the third/fourth options).

It’s a messy situation. My own view is that David Ward’s first comments — in which he conflated “the Jews” and the policies of the Israeli government without seeming to notice the difference — were unacceptable. He eventually apologised for the offence caused, the kind of half-hearted apology that satisfies no-one. His tweet, by contrast, condemned the Israeli government: agree or disagree with the political view he expressed, but at least he correctly identified the group he was criticising this time. As a result of its earlier inaction, the party has over-compensated this time.

Here’s a sample of your comments:

I very much welcome what amounts to the first occasion in the Clegg leadership that party discipline has been executed well.

His initial comments were overstated and their timing insensitive, so I support temporary withdrawal of whip but he should not be penalised long-term for exaggerated statements of the obvious truth about Israeli occupation and the creation of a state for those of a single religion denying the rights of the indigenous population.

Ward’s tweet reached a tiny number of people. By their actions, it has now reached far more. The leadership and disciplinarians have brought the party into disrepute.

He seems to be criticised for calling Israel an apartheid state, rather than anti-semitism as such. It’s certainly arguable that Israel is indeed an apartheid state.

I think his views are legitimate but his “the Jews” comment was clumsily worded and therefore offensive. He needed to show willingness to express his views in better ways, which he didn’t do.

He should concentrate on being a Lib Dem, not trying to out-Galloway Galloway.

I think he and the leadership come out badly. I think he’s been unfairly misinterpreted, but should have known better, been more sensitive, and apologised quickly for causing offence (clarifying but not withdrawing the substance of his remarks) rather than digging in and making things worse. He should also have known that by refusing to defuse the situation quickly he forced the leadership in to taking action against him. I don’t like what the leadership did, but I probably don’t think that they had a choice. It’s not fair, but life isn’t – we have to learn to operate in the real world. By all means speak out on sensitive issues – but do so with care, and be willing to clarify if you’ve been misunderstood and/or you chose your original words poorly.

He said nothing wrong. Anyone is entitled to suggest that Israel, on its current path, is likely not to last as a state.

His comments were crude but I agree with 90% of what he said. I feel extremely uncomfortable about this. Israel IS an apartheid state and we should not bully those who have the courage to say so.

He is deliberately being provocative to gain votes locally. If he wanted real peace in the Middle East he would moderate his comments. This is the worst kind of gesture politics. Completely irresponsible.

Goes way beyond free speech, the leadership did what it had to do.

He should better learn the meaning of words around Zionism, Jews etc. but he is correct that Israel defies the UN resolutions without any punishment.

Referring to Israeli policy as the policy of “the Jews” is ignorant and offensive. It may also be racist. On the other hand, Israel IS an apartheid state and there are still Zionists shaping policy.

His choice of language is too colourful, but we must break the taboo of criticizing the dreadful effects of hard line Zionism in Israel, and the danger that it is becoming mainstream.

He has failed to distinguish between state and people, a mistake that no Liberal should ever make. This is not an issue of political correctness but rather one of political awareness.

David Ward did apologise for his first gaffe approaching Holocaust Memorial Day. His comments were ill-timed and ham-fisted in their wording. I do not think Ward means to be racist against Jews. His tweet, was unnecessarily aggressive, but it contained facts. If Nelson Mandela can call Israel an apartheid state, then there should be no problem with David Ward doing the same. He has been accused, also, of not supporting Party policy (the current “2 states” policy). I don’t know and don’t care if that is true, however I know that there are Lib Dem MPs who voted against, for instance, the Equal Marriage Act, and yet the whip was not withdrawn from them. It seems to be a double standard that has been applied and it’s unpalatable.

He has spoken the truth. He is far from alone in what he has said. It is incredibly illiberal to reprimand him and this is an issue that could well end my membership of the Lib Dems. I am ashamed and disgusted by the comments and actions of the leadership.

NB: Comments on this post will be pre-moderated, as we now have to do for all posts referencing the Arab-Israeli conflict because of the large number of offensive comments submitted whenever this topic is discussed. Please ensure before leaving a comment that it respects the site’s comments policy.

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  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.