When the snap election was called last week, it looked like plain-sailing for the Liberal Democrats. Tim Farron’s party appeared on course for significant gains by simply appealing to the 48pc and talking about Brexit from a Remain perspective. However, a week on and it’s questions of religion that are proving a headache for the party.
After Tim Farron attempted to put an end to speculation over how ‘liberal’ his Christian beliefs are (telling the BBC he does not think gay sex is a sin), his party were swiftly plummeted into another media storm when it transpired that David Ward had been selected as the party’s candidate for Bradford East. The former Lib Dem MP was forced to apologise in 2013 for saying he was ‘saddened that the Jews could within a few years of liberation from the death camps, be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians’, and previously tweeted: ‘If I lived in Gaza, would I fire a rocket? – probably yes’. With this in mind, Ward’s return hardly seemed to go with Farron’s claim that his party offers a ‘warm home’ for Jews left alienated by Labour’s anti-semitism scandal.
After coming under increased criticism — including from the Prime Minister at PMQs — over whether the Liberal Democrats are really so ‘liberal’, Farron has now done the honourable thing (be it nearly 24 hours later) and sacked Ward:
‘I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united. David Ward is unfit to represent the party and I have sacked him.’
Now this is obviously the right decision — and, in fairness, Farron has acted quicker than Corbyn has in similar situations. But the fact he was even selected in the first place is a problem. Liberal Democrats were fully aware that Ward’s comeback would stoke controversy. The comments that have caused upset haven’t been made in the past 12 hours. They were made before he was re-selected.
By waiting until his party received a hammering in PMQs on the issue, Farron’s late realisation that Ward was an ‘unfit’ candidate appears insincere. It looks as though he was pushed into making the decision.