Lib Dems in glasshouses

Liberal Democrats should denounce Ken Livingstone’s antisemitism but our own record on dealing with out of order grandees is pathetic.

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The Labour Party appears to have an Anti-Semitism problem. Many of its own members say so. That fact was hard to dispute even before Ken Livingstone’s intervention. But a former mayor of the nation’s largest city expounding on a spurious connection between Zionism and Nazism displays the issue on an IMAX scale.

It is absolutely correct that Liberal Democrats – and every other right thinking person – should be condemning this. It was quite fair for Tim Farron to say:

The sight of Ken Livingstone – a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee and former Mayor of London – touring television studios spouting more and more ill-informed, divisive rhetoric was truly unbelievable and grew in offensiveness with every interview.

And most of the harsher words spoken by Lib Dem activists on social media were also justified.

What is not merited, however, is us developing any sense of superiority over the Labour Party. As a Party we have been terrible at dealing with wayward members. The most obvious example of this is the fact that despite being accused of sexual assault by multiple women, Chris Rennard still takes the Lib Dem whip in the Lords. The reason being that this he said/she, she, she and she said story was judged according to a criminal standard of proof, despite the fact that party membership is clearly a civil matter. The deeply unsatisfactory outcome is that Rennard is still in the Party but his victims have been pushed out.

However, more relevant to Livingstone’s case is that of another Lib Dem peer: Jenny Tonge. Whilst  she was eventually pressured into resigning from the Lib Dem group in the Lords, she remains a member of the Party. That is despite saying things that make Ken sound like a semitophile. The most gobsmacking came about in the wake of the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Medical assistance came in from across the world (including Israel). Tonge suggested that there should be an investigation into an allegation originating that the Hezbollah Youtube channel that Israeli medical teams were harvesting organs from the earthquake’s victims.

It is disturbing to say the least that a known menace to women and a propagator of a modern day blood libel are still Liberal Democrats. The scandal that followed the unearthing of Rennard’s misdemeanours led to the Party’s procedures being tightened but it remains to see how effective these will be in practice. More disturbing, is that both Rennard and Tonge still enjoy the support of vocal minorities within the Party.

We should by all means criticise Labour’s shortcomings but we must also recognise our own.

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