Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has barred controversial former MP David Ward from running for his old seat in Bradford East, after he was selected as the local party’s candidate.
The dramatic move came just hours after a high-profile backlash from the prime minister, the Jewish community and senior figures within party, who were left appalled at the prospect of him once again becoming an MP.
Farron said: “I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united. David Ward is unfit to represent the party and I have sacked him.”
On Wednesday, in a House of Commons response, Theresa May had said: “People will be, I think, rightly disappointed to see the Liberal Democrats re-adopt a candidate with a questionable record on anti-Semitism”.
After outgoing Conservative Friends of Israel chair Sir Eric Pickles MP said he was “disgusted” by Ward’s candidacy, May said: “It is important that all parties maintain the strongest possible censure on all forms of intolerance and send that message to our communities.”
The news was applauded by the Jewish community, with Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson saying: “The action taken by Tim Farron is the right one and we welcome it.”
He added: “The selection of David Ward for Bradford East was an error, and rightly criticised by politicians from all parties. Mr Ward’s views are offensive, and he has been an unrepentant serial offender. It is important that all parties have a zero tolerance approach to antisemitism”.
— CFoI (@CFoI) April 26, 2017
The head of the Holocaust Education Trust was one of many earlier left aghast at the prospect of Ward’s re-emergence, recalling how the ex-MP once used his Holocaust Memorial Day message to compare Israelis to Nazis.
“This is unbelievable,” said the HET’s Karen Pollock. “It is beyond parody that someone who has repeatedly expressed anti-Semitic and deliberately incendiary views would be selected to be a Parliamentary representative by a mainstream political party. This is pretty shocking and hugely disappointing.”
A Board of Deputies spokesman concurred, saying: “It is deeply disappointing to us and very embarrassing for the Liberal Democrats that David Ward has once again been selected.”
Ward, who represented Bradford East from 2010-15, was warned about his language after the HMD message in January 2013, in which he said he was “saddened… that Jews could, within a few years of liberation from the death camps, be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel”.
In July of the same year he was suspended for three months for refusing to apologise for asking: “Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the apartheid State of Israel last?”
Former party leader Nick Clegg at the time described his comments as “crass and insensitive,” but a year later, as war broke out in Gaza, Ward was at it again, suggesting he might be ready to fire rockets into Israel.
A source close to Lib Dem leader Tim Farron “will not tolerate anti-Semitism within the party… Tim’s record is good: he kicked out [Baroness] Jenny Tonge when she spoke out of turn.”
Initially, Farron said Ward’s past comments were “offensive, wrong and anti-Semitic” but that he should not intervene in the local candidate selection, before announcing that he had stepped in shortly after Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Lib Dem peer Lord Palmer of Childs Hill said he had helped persuade the party leadership to drop Ward from the 2017 election list.
“Sadly when Mrs May called a snap General Election it had some knock-on effects, including that sitting Lib Dem MPs and those defeated in 2015 can if they wish get automatic re-selection – that wouldn’t have happened in a 2020 General Election,” he said.
“I have been pressing the party leadership to see that he is not a Lib Dem candidate. Sadly Bradford has had very anti-Israel candidates across many Parties… Must be something in the air there!”
Ward was one of dozens of Lib Dem MPs to lose his seat in 2015, but has remained active in local politics, and has continued to make incendiary statements from the side-lines, last month tweeting: “There’s an inexorable end to #Israel as it is – its discrimination, apartheid, colonialism and racism is outdated and unsustainable.”
Announcing that he would once again stand for Bradford East, the local party this week described Ward as a “hard-working campaigner”.