Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has suggested it is “appropriate” under internal rules for a former MP who was suspended over “anti-Semitic” remarks to represent the party as a councillor.
Mr Farron said David Ward, who was suspended by the Lib Dems in 2013 after questioning the continued existence of the state of Israel, had “served his time” and therefore had a right to put himself forward for positions in the party.
The former Bradford East MP, who was also forced to apologise in 2014 after suggesting that he might be ready to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel, was reselected to fight the 2015 general election but lost his seat.
He now sits as a councillor in Bradford, representing the Bolton and Undercliffe ward, and Mr Farron said that he was able to put himself forward for reselection and the local government seat because he retained all rights as a party member after his suspension was served.
But the Lib Dem leader did suggest that those reselection processes may be changed to take into account of punishment action as part of a review of party disciplinary rules by Lord Macdonald launched last month.
Mr Farron told the Commons Home Affairs Committee’s anti-Semitism inquiry: “Once his (Mr Ward’s) time of suspension had completed then he retained all rights as a party member, including being able to put himself forward for reselection and approval and so on.
“And likewise, in the time since he ceased to be a member of Parliament, to have an involvement at local government level.
“If you’re saying should we look at processes to ensure that our selection is done appropriately and that the disciplinary processes inform that, then that would be something that would come under (Lord) Ken Macdonald’s review.”
He went on: “I think that when you look at an individual’s actions, you then have to make sure that justice is done.
“And if a disciplinary process has been gone through, either the person has not been convicted of an offence, for want of a better phrase, or indeed that they have but they have served their time, then it’s appropriate that that person would continue in any other free organisation as they would do otherwise.
“But it doesn’t mean I associate myself in any way with some of the comments he has made, some of which I would deem to be anti-Semitic.”
Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl criticised the decision: “David Ward is a serial and repeat offender. We are very disturbed that despite being suspended from the party in 2013, David Ward continues to make extremely offensive and troubling statements. Any prospect of his serving in an official capacity would be a very worrying development for the Jewish community.”
Gavin Stollar, chair of Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel told Jewish News: “We continue to monitor David Ward’s actions and words closely and also inputting into Lord MacDonald’s review of internal disciplinary processes.”