Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Ex-MP Jenny Tonge resigns from the Lib Dems
The former MP for Richmond Mark, Jenny Tonge, has this afternoon resigned from the Liberal Democrats. The official line appears to be that, having refused to apologise for an insensitive remark about Israel, Baroness Tonge decided to resign the party whip, claiming that her right to an independent view had been undermined.
The controversial comments were made in a speech at Middlesex University last Thursday, in which Tonge predicted that Israel “would not last forever” and that the USA would eventually withdraw political and financial support, leaving it to “reap what it had sown”.
Foolish? Yes. Insensitive? Yes. Racist? Probably. Whichever way you look at it, this reflects very badly on the party and on Tonge herself. Nick Clegg was quick to move in response, effectively issuing an ultimatum. According to The Guardian, Clegg responded rapidly to widespread criticism from many in both Jewish and political circles, insisting that Tonge either withdrew the remarks or resigned the whip. She chose the latter. Said Clegg: “these remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats. I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party.”
I shed no tears for Jenny Tonge, even though in the past I have praised her work as a constituency MP. This is simply the latest in a long line of irresponsible and embarrassing views she has expressed in respect to Israel. She was forced to resign as shadow children’s minister in 2004 after famously intimating that, if she lived in Palestine, she might easily consider becoming a suicide bomber. Two years later then leader Menzies Campbell criticised her “anti-semitic” argument that the Lib Dems had been in the “grip” of the “pro-Israeli lobby”. She has sailed close to the wind on other occasions in respect to her controversial views and Clegg came under serious pressure to remove the whip just two years ago after she made groundless claims that the Israeli military had been harvesting organs from earthquake victims.
I have respect for principled rebellion. I think parliament is all the better for having independently minded people within it. But on this score Nick Clegg is surely right and Jenny Tonge wrong. Presumably if Tonge had issued an apology Clegg wouldn’t have gone as far as to withdraw the whip but in the circumstances there was little alternative available to him. There can be no place in our party for such ill-conceived racism, especially when the individual concerned has a history of expressing the same views. The real question is this: why now? Why has stronger action not been taken previously?
At the very least Tonge’s comments have undermined the efforts of current and previous governments to find a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli question. At worst, this is racist intolerance and the kindest thing that can be said is that Tonge’s remarks were misguided and her obstinacy in refusing to withdraw them insulting.
The Guardian quoted the chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, who argued that “Baroness Tonge's latest outburst is wrong but [also] contrary to Lib Dem party policy. Jenny Tonge is an irrelevant, siren and marginal voice in the Liberal Democrat party and we call on her to resign the Lib Dem whip.” It’s sadly very true, and it gives me no pleasure to see someone of Tonge’s intelligence and capability becoming so marginalised, with her principal contributions being reduced to throwing short-fused time-bombs in from the sidelines.
I find that I agree with Nick. These remarks were wrong and offensive and they do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats. However, could that not also be said of the fundamentalist, right-wing, homophobic, and anti-abortion group CARE (Christian Action, Research and Education) which, in addition to promoting a cure for gay people, finds the staff and the finances to provide five Lib Dem parliamentarians (including the president and Scottish leader) with interns? I would argue that CARE’s stance is "wrong and offensive" and does not "reflect the views" of our party. I’d also add that it’s “wrong and offensive” for our MPs to be seen to accept what is essentially blood money from an organisation that took a lead role in the vicious “Keep the Clause” campaign in 1999-2000, or which believes gay people to be “lepers” who are “sexually broken”.
Surely Clegg should be consistent with his own logic and insist that MPs sever their ties with CARE or face expulsion? Or are some fatuous and idiotic comments on Israel more offensive than institutional homophobia?