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Are you fit to be a Liberal Democrat? (A response to Nick Cohen)

28 April 2014

6:43 PM

28 April 2014

6:43 PM

My colleague Nick Cohen has a piece asking ‘Are you fit to be British? Take the UKIP test.’ In it he cites a number of horrible and silly and things said by people in UKIP before he himself descends into rudeness.  Stuart Wheeler is apparently a ‘cadaverous gambling tycoon’. ‘Cadaverous’? As in old? I suppose it must come to us all.

But it is Nick’s conclusion that spurs me to respond. He finishes, ‘The scandals are so frequent you have to conclude that it is not the odd rotten apples that needs throwing out but the whole stinking barrel.’

Nick is not the only journalist to take this view. The British media in general are keeping up a sustained open season on UKIP. This is because the many people who wholly oppose UKIP’s policies are worried that the party looks likely to come top at next month’s EU elections. Which of course presents them with a problem. Because if the claim by Nick and others is true – that UKIP is indeed a racist, misogynistic, homophobic party to its core – then it must mean that in very large numbers we the British public are racist, misogynistic and homophobic. Or that we need re-educating as we are utterly ignorant of the true nature of UKIP and never read the news.

Or is it possible that there is a third explanation? Could it be the case that it is not entirely fair to judge an entire political party on the basis of a few stupid people on a notoriously stupid social media platform? I wonder. To try this theory out let us see whether we can turn from a very new party to a very old one, and from the realm of ‘nasty words’ to the realm of ‘nasty deeds.’ In other words, let’s try turning ‘Are you fit to be British? Take the UKIP test’ into ‘Are you fit to be a Liberal Democrat? Take the party test.’

Let’s have a go.

Are you a paedophile?

In recent weeks a book by the excellent Labour MP Simon Danczuk has reignited the ancient row about the dead Liberal Democrat MP Cyril Smith. It seems to be the case not only that Cyril Smith was a child abuser but that he was also well known to be so, by, among other, the heads of the Liberal party who – as Private Eye have recently been reporting – were repeatedly made aware of the charges against him. The party never did anything to deal with the charges. Indeed when Cyril Smith died the party leader, one Nick Clegg, said of Smith:

‘He was a true Liberal, dedicated to his constituency, always showing great passion and determination. Cyril was a colourful politician who kept the flame of Liberalism alive when the party was much smaller than it is today. Rochdale and Britain have sadly lost one of their great MPs, and I think we can safely say there will never be an MP quite like Cyril Smith again.’

Do you place bombs in public places?

Last October a Liberal Democrat councillor in Denbigh was jailed for setting off a string of bombs in his constituency. John Larsen planted the 14 devices, packed with shrapnel and ball bearings in a range of locations, bringing terror to the local community.

In sentencing Larsen, who was a Liberal Democrat councillor at the time of the offences, Judge Merfyn Hughes QC said he had subjected residents to ‘a sustained campaign of quite deliberate terror’ and had ‘abused the trust’ of neighbours. He added: ‘If you hadn’t been arrested, I’m entirely satisfied you would have killed someone or caused serious injury.’ Councillor Larsen was jailed for 18 years.

Do you try to silence reformist Muslims?

Earlier this year when the Liberal Democrat candidate Maajid Nawaz tweeted out an innocuous cartoon depicting the well-known historical figures Jesus and Mohammed, he received numerous death threats and was encouraged by the police to keep a low profile for a time.

Among those who appeared to inspire extreme reactions against Nawaz was one Mohammed Shafiq, a member of the ‘Liberal Democrats Ethnic Minority group’. Shafiq denies that he was spreading fear or encouraging violence. But what is not in doubt is that he campaigned to have Nawaz dropped as a candidate by the Lib Dems. In order to solve the problem the party high command appeared to have subsequently orchestrated a meeting half-way between Nawaz and the person who helped to organise – in Andrew Neil’s words – a ‘lynch mob’ against their own candidate. The party has subsequently tried to deny evidence that they have subsequently cooled on supporting Nawaz because of his alleged ‘blasphemy’.

Do you enjoy homophobic campaigns?

The 1983 election race between the then closeted gay Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes and the openly gay Labour candidate Peter Tatchell was one of the dirtiest in recent electoral history. Hughes and the Lib Dems were very happy to campaign against Tatchell by trying to whip up dislike of the Labour candidate based on his sexuality. And nor is this tactic such ancient history. In 2012 the Liberal Democrats in Kingston-upon-Thames campaigned against an openly gay Conservative candidate, called Adrian Amer, with the slogan, ‘It’s always a straight fight here in Grove Ward’. This was recognised for what it was by many locals – an anti-gay ‘dog-whistle’.

Do you like lying?

Before the last election Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg signed a promise that he would not vote for any increase in tuition fees. Once he had become Deputy Prime Minister he voted for just that. He now says he is ‘sorry’ for having to lie.


I could go on. I have tried to stick to things people have ‘done’ rather than things they have said. And I have tried to stick to major party figures rather than minor figures hoping to be elected at some point in the future. There are not enough hours in a life to go through the facebook ‘likes’ of every Liberal Democrat prospective candidate. But I think it can be agreed that I have found a number of examples of terrible behaviour. To this I can think of only one way out. These are not merely rotten apples. It is the whole party that is rotten. Going by Nick’s lights the only conclusion I can possibly come to is that the Liberal Democrat party is a homophobic, lying, Muslim-bashing, bomb-planting, child-abusing party. Time to get rid of the whole thing. Right?

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