BBC Question Time (15/1/09): open thread

A new year at Westminster, and the BBC’s Question Time is back (BBC1 and online, 10.35 pm GMT) – and so is the weekly LDV open thread. If you’re tuning in to watch, remember: don’t get angry, get commenting.

Lib Dem peer Baroness (Jenny) Tonge is the party’s representative… once again: I have quite a lot of time for Jenny, but, really, QT’s producers are getting boringly predictable in their bookings. Doubtless Baroness Shirl will be on their roster for this series, too. So, please, BBC: try a bit of fresh thinking.

Anyway, Jenny will be appearing alongside Tory-turned-Labour MP and Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward (who for all his turncoatness is usually pretty sane), Conservative shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling, British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh, and Jewish Chronicle editor and commentator Stephen Pollard (not that the QT producers are trying to get he and Jenny at each other’s throats over the Israel/Gaza situation, of course: they wouldn’t be that predictable, would they?).

And for those who are staying up extra late for BBC1’s This Week, Labour peer ‘n’ fundraiser Lord Levy, Sun columnist Jane Moore, and Alistair McGowan will be on hand to lighten the atmosphere alongside Andrew Neil, Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott.

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  • Unlike Willie Walsh who was spinning so madly I nearly got dizzy

  • I don’t understand why Nick Clegg hasn’t been on since the leadership debate.

  • Huw – don’t think that’s right, I can definately remember Paddy, Charles and Ming being on as leader.

  • Shaun Woodward always sounds approachable and persuasive – but that doesn’t necessarily mean he understands the issues, just that he has learned the party line.

  • Gavin Stollar 17th Jan '09 - 6:41pm

    Jenny Tonge is a rent a quote anti-Israel Lib Dem, that’s why they always ask her on QT.

    She is not representative of the Party, she is extreme and threatens to alienate the party from moderate liberal voters (note small ‘l’)

    Makes me sick.

  • Simon Titley 18th Jan '09 - 3:36pm

    Gavin Stollar’s attack on Jenny Tonge is idiotic and offensive.

    Jenny is not a “rent a quote” but someone who has consistently spoken out on principle.

    She is representative of the party. Otherwise why would Nick Clegg, Ed Davey and Ming Campbell all have criticised Israel’s behaviour publicly in the past few days?

    Only if our parliamentarians had spoken out in favour of slaughtering children in Gaza would they have “alienated the party from moderate liberal voters”.

    Face it, Gavin, the days when Israel could get away with murder by the simple expedient of using the holocaust as a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card are finally over.

  • Simon Titley 18th Jan '09 - 10:25pm

    Tom Papworth – Let’s deal with your arguments one by one.

    “I once canvassed a man who said he would not vote for us as long as Jenny Tonge was in the party. Her “anti-Semitic” views alienated him.”

    This is an anecdote, not an argument. Jenny Tonge is highly critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. That does not equate to anti-semitism and we are under no obligation to trim our sails just because you once met a bloke who thought differently.

    “I have also been told that she has had to be reined in by the leadership in the past.”

    By whom? When? Why? Let us have further and better particulars so that we may judge whether ‘the leadership’ was justified.

    “QT only get her on to exacerbate tensions in debates about Israel/Palestine.”

    The media prefer an argument. It’s more interesting than consensus. To stigmatise the expression of strong views as “exacerbating tensions” is a denial of democratic debate.

    “It reflects badly on them but it reflects far more badly on us.”

    Jenny does not “reflect badly on us”. What evidence do you have for this? Most people respect politicians more if they are forthright rather than mealy-mouthed.

    “As she does not have an official function other than being a parliamentarian (and when was the last time you saw Andrew George on QT?) we should ensure that we have representatives that are a little more, well, representative of the party.”

    As it happens, Jenny is not just a parliamentarian but is also a party spokesperson on health. But why should appearances on QT be restricted to official spokespeople? And why should any lack of a portfolio make one of our MPs or peers less ‘representative’?

    Who would you judge is ‘more representative’ of the party on the issue of Gaza? You will find no solace in the recent statements of Nick Clegg, Ed Davey or Ming Campbell.

    So what do these ad hominem attacks on Jenny Tonge amount to?

    Liberal Friends of Israel tried and failed to have the Lib Dem whip withdrawn from Jenny Tonge. They did the same to Chris Davies. They really should stop pursuing vendettas against anyone who dares to disagree with them and instead reflect on why their case is losing ground.

  • Jonathan Davies 18th Jan '09 - 11:03pm

    Lib Dem Friends of Israel complained about Jenny Tonge’s conduct at the time of the 2006 September Party Conference because she made the statement: “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party.” Anyone who has studied the history of anti-semitism will be familiar with allegations of Jewish financial domination of the world.

    Chris Davies stood down as leader of the Lib Dem group in the European Parliament after he wrote a letter to one of his constituents that she should “Go and wallow in your own filth”. Ming Campbell, then Party leader and hardly a well know supporter of Israel, then wrote that Chris’s views did not reflect the views of the Party.

  • Gavin Stollar 19th Jan '09 - 12:30am

    Thank you Jonathan, you took the words, literally straight out on my mouth/off my keyboard.

    Why is it Simon that whenever you ask a spokesperson to make a statement or express a view that IS outside their portfolio they almost always (without exception) refer you to the relevant spokesperson – except in the case of Baroness Tonge and her Israel-bashing agenda.

    I appreciate your anecdote Tom as it is very similar to that which many of us have to put up with time after time from Party members and non-member sympathisers alike.

    Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell and Nick Clegg all view the Baroness as an irritant, someone who “should stick to her brief”. We are not trying to stifle debate, rather encourage sensible and frank debating of the issues. Why is it when ever LDFI or indeed our sympathetic MPs and Peers make critical statements of Israel we always pre-face it with an acknowledgement of Israel’s own misgivings and issues but when an anti-Israel Peer like Tonge makes a statement she feels no need to even acknowledge the existence of the other side’s rights or arguments.

    Jenny Tonge’s quotes in 2006 quite simply made her devoid of any credibility on the issue as she re-hashed the old conspiracy pedalled in that known anti-Semitic book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Simon – defend her 2006 comments to your discredit too.

    We are not trying to make the Holocaust an excuse for any of Israel’s actions and believe me when I say some of Israel’s friends are also some of her biggest critics but you have to understand the context of the actions and the perspectives of those arguing against her before you dispel what is being said and done on this matters.

  • Simon Titley 19th Jan '09 - 12:49am

    Jonathan Davies – Jenny Tonge spoke of the “pro-Israeli lobby” and did not suggest “Jewish financial domination of the world.” The tactic of smearing any critic of Israel with the tag of anti-semitism is a familiar one. Nevertheless, the accusation of anti-semitism levelled at Jenny is simply defamatory. There is no basis for it so why say it?

    As for Chris Davies, he should never have made the remark he did, as he admitted. He apologised and resigned as group leader. What more do the Friends of Israel want?

    The Friends of Israel has made its complaint. Fine, but in neither case is there any justification in endlessly harassing opponents and critics. Jenny Tonge and Chris Davies will continue as Lib Dem parliamentarians whether you like it or not.

  • Simon Titley 19th Jan '09 - 1:45am

    Gavin – Our parliamentarians do not confine themselves to their portfolios, unless they are pronouncing officially on behalf of the whole party. An injunction never to speak beyond one’s brief would cripple all our parliamentarians.

    Your statement that “Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell and Nick Clegg all view the Baroness as an irritant, someone who “should stick to her brief” ” is simply bollocks.

    Your demand that Jenny should make even-handed statements would reduce everything she said to an ineffectual “one the one hand, on the other hand” statement. No politician is under any such obligation and, contrary to your claim, I see no evidence that all pro-Israel politicians scrupulously observe such a rule.

    Your attempt to link Jenny to the notorious ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ is not only defamatory but also ridiculous. It is absurd claims such as this that are making the pro-Israel lobby a laughing stock.

    I resent these constant attempts to claim that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic (except when committed by Jewish critics, when it is then attacked as ‘self-hatred’). It reduces debate to the level of personal abuse and no longer impresses anyone. It is a worn-out tactic that has lost its power to intimidate critics into silence, so just give it up.

    The Lib Dem Friends of Israel is a friend of which Israel? It could be a friend of Peace Now. It could be a friend of B’Tselem. It could be a friend of the many prominent Jewish people in Britain who have spoken out against Israel’s behaviour in Gaza or the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Instead, it has consistently sided with the most reactionary forces in Israel and seems to have no compunction about defending any and every outrage. It is a disgrace to liberalism and to the party.

    With friends like this…?

  • Stuart Littlewood 19th Jan '09 - 12:08pm

    You don’t have to be anti-semitic to be disgusted by the conduct of this brutal and lawless Israeli regime. Israel’s stooges embedded in our political system and at the centre of government should now hang their heads in shame and apologise for their error of judgement. Better still they should seriously consider doing the decent thing – which is to fold up their ‘Friends of Israel’ tent and depart to avoid bringing permanent discredit to their respective parties. They have already shamed the British people.

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