Former Lib Dem candidate quits over Jenny Tonge
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Former Lib Dem candidate quits over Jenny Tonge

Matthew Harris, who stood as an MP in Hendon in 2010, says party's refusal to act against peer's 'Jewish power' slur was 'final straw'

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Baroness Tonge
Baroness Tonge

A former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate has quit the party over its handling of a complaint against Jenny Tonge.

Matthew Harris, who stood for the Hendon constituency in 2010, said the “final straw” not to renew came when the party refused to act against the peer for sharing an article referring to “Jewish power” and Labour.

“Our view is that an opinion can be controversial – and even offensive – but still fall short of being racist,” the party’s regional parties committee ruled. “Any desire not to offend also needs to be balanced against the right to criticise in the strongest terms the actions of states and governments.”

Tonge, who sits as a cross-bencher in the Lords after resigning the party whip in 2012, is still a member of the Lib Dems.

Harris wrote in a blog that the committee’s response “beggars belief”. He said: “Talk of “Jewish power” has nothing at all to do with “the right to criticise in the strongest terms the actions of states and governments”. Any committee that does not understand this lacks the intellectual rigour, nous and sensitivity to do its job properly. There is no point trying to use such committees to achieve anything constructive. They are dancing round the mulberry bush in ever-decreasing circles.

“This committee demonstrates the sort of muddled thinking that sadly got the Liberal Democrats where they are today. They can, of course, do what they like – but they can do it without me.”

However, he stressed that there are many “fine” people within the party and was proud of the record of the Coalition – “the best British government of my lifetime”. Tim Farron, he added, was “doing his best in appallingly difficult circumstances”.

Harris took his decision before Tonge provoked fresh anger with her reaction to the home affairs select committee report into anti-Semitism.

While welcoming the report, she wrote it would have been more useful “if it had investigated the causes of anti-Semitism too. It is difficult to believe that a 75 percent increase in anti-Semitism it reports have been committed by people who simply hate Jewish people for no reason.

“It is surely the case these incidents are reflecting the disgust amongst the general public of the way the government of Israel treats Palestinians and manipulates the USA and ourselves to take no action against the country’s blatent disregard of international law and the Geneva Conventions.”

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