Lib Dems drop 'anti-Semitic' candidate David Ward

Jon Craig, Chief Political Correspondent

A former Liberal Democrat MP branded "anti-Semitic" has been dramatically sacked as a candidate only hours after being condemned by Theresa May in the Commons.

David Ward, MP for Bradford East from 2010-15, was selected by party activists in the constituency as their General Election candidate in a bid to win back the seat from Labour.

But just two hours after the Prime Minister hit out at his "questionable views", the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron - in an abrupt and spectacular U-turn - announced that he had sacked him.

"I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united," said Mr Farron. "David Ward is unfit to represent the party and I have sacked him."

Yet two hours before PMQs, Mr Farron - despite saying Mr Ward had said things that were "wrong, offensive and above all anti-Semitic" - had declared: "It is not the job of the leader to impose who and who isn't the candidate."

Mr Ward's dismissal by his party leader came after he was attacked during the final Prime Minister's Questions before the election by the former Tory Cabinet minister Sir Eric Pickles.

Sir Eric, a former leader of Bradford City Council who is quitting as an MP, said party leaders must do more than "pay lip service" to tackling anti-Semitism.

And he asked the PM: "Do you share my disgust that a former member of this House, criticised by the Home Affairs Select Committee for his anti-Semitic utterances, is now the official candidate in Bradford East for the Liberal Democrats?"

Mr Ward has been a controversial figure since accusing Jews of "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians" in a 2013 blog in which he compared Jewish suffering in the Holocaust with Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

In 2014 he was forced to apologise after suggesting he might be ready to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel. A year later he lost his seat to Labour in the 2015 general election.

But when Mr Farron gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee's anti-Semitism inquiry last year, he said the ex-MP had "served his time".

Replying to Sir Eric's question, Mrs May said: "People will be, I think, rightly disappointed to see the Liberal Democrats re-adopt a candidate with a questionable record on anti-Semitism.

"It is important that all parties maintain the strongest possible censure on all forms of intolerance and send that message to our communities."

Immediately after her reply to Sir Eric, Speaker John Bercow called Mr Farron, who was almost drowned out by roars from Tory MPs as he called for a "decent Opposition" to the Conservatives.

Shouting above the uproar, he said: "In the nine months the Prime Minister has held her office, she has closed the door on desperate child refugees, she has ignored the plight of those suffering under the crisis in health and social care, and she is responsible for the shameful rape clause.

"Twenty years ago she berated the Conservative Party for being 'the nasty party' but her party has never been nastier."

She replied: "He talks about a decent opposition. I find it difficult to hear those words coming from his mouth when we have just heard that his party has selected a candidate with questionable views on anti-Semitism."