|David Ward (Photo: The Independent)|
For those unfamiliar with Mr Ward, his membership of the party was suspended pending investigation into alleged anti-Semitic comments shortly before the General Election of 2017. Ward then stood as an independent candidate, finishing third. he was then, I believe, expelled from the party for standing against the official Lib Dem candidate.
Ward has been a controversial figure for some time, not least because of statements he has made on Israel, the Holocaust and the Board of Deputies. I'm afraid I've usually found myself unable to defend him.
Unfortunately, a newspaper local to Bradford - the Telegraph & Argus - reported that "David Ward is back in the Lib Dems". It stated categorically that "a former Bradford MP has been reinstated as a member of the Liberal Democrats - almost two years after he was kicked out of the party."
This was news to me - and rather disturbing news.
Naturally I looked to find some confirmation of this. I couldn't. The only other news outlet reporting on this was the Bradford Telegraph, owned by the T& A, whose headline was the more cautious "David Ward says return to Lib Dems 'a formality'". That's not quite the same thing. But the situation begs some serious questions: why was David Ward briefing the local media that he had been re-admitted? Why would he be publicly pre-empt the outcome of his application to re-join? More importantly, why - when various angered Jewish (and other) groups were berating the party on social media for the apparent decision - was Lib Dem HQ not quick off the mark to issue a formal statement denying it?
The Jewish Chronicle was on hand later to quote a party spokesperson as saying "David Ward is not a member of the Liberal Democrats and was previously expelled from the party for bringing it into disrepute." I'm not sure he was, but I won't split hairs. However, by this time the "news" had travelled some distance and was widely believed. It's difficult to put the genie back into the bottle - even more so when it takes several hours to make the most simple of denials.
But more importantly still is what discussions on social media revealed about the relationship between Mr Ward and his local Liberal Democrats.
Firstly there is this, posted on twitter only yesterday:
So, not only are Bradford Liberal Democrats working closely with Mr Ward in defiance of the federal party, they have essentially adopted him onto the council's Lib Dem group as the deputy leader. Ward himself admitted to the Jewish Chronicle today that he is not a Lib Dem member, however much he believes his reinstatement is a "formality" - so why on earth has someone elected to the council as an independent risen to become the deputy leader of a group he is not a member of? How has this escaped the radar of Lib Dem HQ at Great George Street?
It would also seem that the tweets from Bradford Lib Dems were intended as part of a concerted effort to raise the profile of Mr Ward in advance of what they believed would be his readmission to the party. The Bradford Telegraph reported that "both the Bradford and Yorkshire parties said that he should re-apply for membership" and that a decision on his membership would be made at regional level.
However, in pre-empting the outcome of that process the local party has not only miscalculated but has also arguably brought the federal party into disrepute. How long has this relationship been going on for? Just how long has Mr Ward been sitting as "deputy leader" of our party grouping? (I'm led to believe he has been sitting with the Lib Dem group for nine months, giving the appearance of having been brought back into the fold. This, if true, is simply unacceptable).
Whatever our views on David Ward and his controversial opinions, this is not a professional way to behave. We now have some serious questions to answer - about Mr Ward himself, about internal procedure, about how we deal with local parties acting in opposition to centrally-imposed suspensions, about our own communications and, perhaps most significantly, about how we deal with anti-Semitism and other expressions of discrimination.
I suspect the local parties have miscalculated here. But, more than that, in pre-determining the outcome of Mr Ward's membership application, and in developing a worryingly close relationship with an expelled former member, they have to my mind managed to bring the federal party into disrepute.
Update (31.1.19): I've since gathered there was an arrangement and that the "Lib Dem group" may actually be "Lib Dems and others". All the same, it's not acceptable that someone debarred from membership was the deputy leader of that group, or that any member of the public viewing the council's website would reasonably believe he had been readmitted
Certainly the images posted of him on social media by Bradford Lib Dems endorsing their candidates were, to be polite, inappropriate.