Jenny Tonge, Baroness Tonge

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The Baroness Tonge
Baroness Tonge Liverpool.jpg
Member of Parliament
for Richmond Park
In office
2 May 1997 – 11 April 2005
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Susan Kramer
Personal details
Born Jennifer Louise Smith
(1941-02-19) 19 February 1941 (age 74)
Walsall, England, United Kingdom
Political party Liberal Democrats (Before 2012)
Independent Liberal Democrat (2012–present)
Spouse(s) Keith Tonge (m. 1964–2013, his death)
Children 3
Residence Kew, Herault and Pembrokeshire
Alma mater University College, London

Jennifer Louise Tonge, Baroness Tonge (née Smith; born 19 February 1941) is a politician in the United Kingdom. She was Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament (MP) for Richmond Park in London from 1997 to 2005. In June 2005 she was made a life peer as Baroness Tonge, of Kew in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames,[1] which entitles her to a seat in the House of Lords. Her support for the Palestinian people and criticism of Israel, has led to some controversy and to her eventual resignation from the Liberal Democrat group in parliament. She remains a member of the party.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born in Walsall in the West Midlands, her parents were both school teachers.[3] She attended Dudley Girls High School from 1951 to 1959. She trained to be a doctor at University College Hospital, gaining an MB and BS in 1964. She is also MFFP (Membership of the Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care of the RCOG).She holds an honorary FFFP. From 1968 to 1978, she worked in General Practice and Family Planning. From 1980 to 1985, she worked as Senior Medical Officer in Women's Services in Ealing. She was a manager of Community Health Services in Ealing from 1992 to 1996.

Tonge was a councillor in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames from 1981 to 1990 and served as chair of the Social Services Committee.

Tonge stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Richmond and Barnes constituency at the 1992 General Election. It was considered to be the party's most winnable seat but Tonge was not elected.[4]

In the House of Commons[edit]

In 1997 Tonge was elected to Parliament, serving Richmond Park from 1997 to 2005. While in the Commons she was Liberal Democrat spokesperson on International Development from 1997 to 2003, and then the spokesperson for children from 2003 to 2004.[5]

In 2002, in the Creationism – Evolution debate in the UK, she asked Prime Minister Tony Blair if he was "happy to allow the teaching of creationism alongside Darwin's theory of evolution in state schools". The Prime Minister replied that he supported a "diverse school system", triggering a row over the issue.[6]

In 2003 Tonge and Labour Party Member of Parliament Oona King visited the Gaza Strip and compared Gaza Strip living conditions for Palestinians to conditions Jews suffered in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.[7] Tonge said "You are almost getting a situation like the Warsaw ghetto. People can't get in or out. They can't work, they can't sell anything. There is this gradual squeeze," as well as "It was an apartheid system." Tonge recommended economic sanctions be applied against Israel and that European Union or United Nations troops be sent to Gaza.[8] Tonge and King said an Israeli soldier wielding a grenade confronted them when they tried to leave the Gaza Strip.[7] Yad Vashem museum chair Avner Shalev criticized Tonge and King for making the comparison with conditions under Nazi rule.[9]

In January 2004 Tonge was asked to step down as children's spokeswoman by Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy after saying of Palestinian suicide bombers: "If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself." Tonge refused to apologise: "I was just trying to say how, having seen the violence and the humiliation and the provocation that the Palestinian people live under every day and have done since their land was occupied by Israel, I could understand..."[10][11]

Tonge's daughter died from accidental electrocution in 2004[12] and Tonge retired from the House of Commons at the 2005 general election.[5]

In the House of Lords[edit]

Tonge became a life peer and member of the House of Lords in 2005. Tonge said in 2006: "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." In response, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell chastised Tonge, saying her remarks were "unacceptable." An all-party group of lords led by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said, in a letter to The Times, that "the language deployed by Baroness Tonge ... was irresponsible and inappropriate."[13] In response Tonge said that professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's article "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" that appeared in the 23 March 2006 issue of the London Review of Books supported her assertion that the "Israel lobby had a disproportionate voice in Anglo-American foreign policy." She also emphasized that her comments "were about the Israeli lobby in politics. They were a big distance from being about Jewishness or anti-Semitism." [14][15] During November 2008, Tonge again visited the Gaza Strip, along with Lord Ahmed, Clare Short, and members of the European Parliament.[16]

From 8 January 2009 to 12 February 2010 Tonge was the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Health. She is very strongly pro-stem cell research and has stated so in the House of Lords.[17] She is pro-choice on abortion and has supported "Patient (Assisted Dying)" laws in the United Kingdom.[18]

On 12 January 2009, Tonge asked in the House of Lords about investigations into alleged Israeli war crimes in the December 2009 – January 2010 Gaza War, saying:

"Is the Minister aware that Mrs Pillay, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has spoken of war crimes being committed in Gaza? Will the Government, therefore, show leadership and call for the immediate—and I mean immediate—establishment by the United Nations Security Council of an independent fact-finding commission to Palestine to investigate all breaches of international law?"[19]

In March 2009 Tonge joined a six-person delegation of British politicians which met with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal in Syria. Tonge told an interviewer that their goal was to force the British government to talk to Hamas and pressure the United States to do likewise. She stated "You don't make peace by talking to your friends. You make peace by talking to your enemies," and said she knew that her meeting with Meshaal might be considered illegal and lead to her arrest. "That is one of the risks that you take," she said.[20][21]

During the 2008–2009 Gaza War Tonge spoke at a London rally against the war, saying: "It is a disgusting, obscene outrage what is going on in Gaza." She said that eventually activists must look to "a full trade embargo and boycotting everything Israeli".[22]

On 1 February 2010 The Palestine Telegraph, of which Tonge was a patron, published an article which made false claims that an Israel Defense Forces emergency aid hospital in Haiti (after the 2010 Haiti earthquake) was secretly harvesting organs and selling them on the black market, based on a YouTube video using video broadcast on Hezbollah's Al-Manar television with no cited evidence and there being no organ removal portrayed in the video.[23][24][25][26] On 11 February The Jewish Chronicle published an interview in which Tonge congratulated the IDF on its swift and generous response to the emergency in Haiti and said "To prevent allegations such as these – which have already been posted on YouTube – going any further, the IDF and the Israeli Medical Association should establish an independent inquiry immediately to clear the names of the team in Haiti."[27] On 12 February 2010, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg removed her from her position as health spokeswoman in the House of Lords calling the comments "wrong, distasteful and provocative." He said she had apologised "unreservedly" for any offence she had caused.[28][29][30]

In 2012 Baroness Tonge appeared at an Israeli Apartheid Week talk at Middlesex University on 23 February 2012,[31] during which she said: "Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America's aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown."[2] A party spokesman said: "Jenny Tonge does not speak for the party on Israel and Palestine. Her presence and comments at this event were extremely ill-advised and ill-judged."[32] Baroness Tonge resigned the Liberal Democrats whip position immediately after being given an ultimatum by party leader Nick Clegg to apologise or resign for her remarks.[2] She retains her position in the House of Lords as an independent Liberal Democrat.[33]

Tonge has been chair of the "All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health" for five years, which in November 2012 issued a report on child marriage, "A Childhood Lost",which urged the British government to act to stop child marriage in Britain and abroad.[34] In November 2012 This followed other reports on Maternal Morbidity "Better off Dead",and most recently, a new report has been published on Population Dynamics and Sustainable Development. She was President of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development from 2011 to 2015. In November 2015 she was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for services to women's health in the UK and in developing countries. She spoke at a London rally at the Israeli Embassy against the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the November 2012 Israeli bombings of Gaza in retaliation for militant rocket attacks on Israel.[35]

In 2015, following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party, Tonge said that she was considering joining Labour. Tonge said that she had thought about joining Labour on several occasions, but she had not recently seen the party as left-wing enough until the election of Corbyn. Tonge expressed support for Corbyn and the former Labour MP Tony Benn: "I marched alongside Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, one on either side. I went to Gaza with Jeremy Corbyn and we met Hamas leaders together."[36] Deputy Leader of the party Tom Watson has said Tonge would be "welcome" in the party.[37]

Personal life[edit]

She met her future husband, Dr Keith Tonge in 1959 at university[38] and married him on 23 May 1964 in Tipton. He was a consultant neuroradiologist formerly at St Thomas's Hospital in Lambeth and they have two surviving grown children and seven grandchildren. Dr Keith Tonge died on 5 July 2013.[39] She lives in Kew and also owns a property in Herault [38][40][41]


  1. ^ The London Gazette: no. 57687. p. 8379. 28 June 2005. Retrieved 2009-05-29.
  2. ^ a b c Watt, Nicholas (29 February 2012). "Lady Tonge resigns Lib Dem party whip over Israel remarks". The Guardian (London). 
  3. ^ Dod's Parliamentary Companion – Vacher Dod Publishing, Limited – Google Books
  4. ^ "Profile: Jenny Tonge". BBC News. 23 January 2004. 
  5. ^ a b "Baroness Tonge, former MP". Retrieved 18 January 2009. 
  6. ^ "PM sparks row over creationism". 14 March 2002. Retrieved 16 January 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Sue Leeman, Two British lawmakers compare Gaza to Warsaw ghetto, Associated Press Worldstream, June 19, 2003 via Highbeam.
  8. ^ Jewish MP compares Gaza to Warsaw ghetto, The Herald-News, June 20, 2003, via Highbeam.
  9. ^ Chris McGreal, MP attacked for Nazi comparison, The Guardian, June 22, 2003.
  10. ^ "Tonge sacked over suicide comment". BBC. 23 January 2004. Retrieved 16 January 2009. 
  11. ^ Ben Russell, Lib Dem MP sacked for saying she could have been suicide bomber, The Independent, 24 January 2004.
  12. ^ "Coroner verdict on MP's daughter". BBC. 12 October 2004. Retrieved 16 January 2009. 
  13. ^ Booth, Jenny (23 September 2006). "Offensive words -Times Online". London: Retrieved 2010-03-29.  (subscription required)
  14. ^ Conger, George (28 November 2006). "British baroness chastised for 'pro-Israel lobby' comments". Jerusalem: Jerusalem Post. 
  15. ^ "Rebuke for Peer's Israel remarks". BBC News. 13 October 2006. Retrieved 19 December 2008. 
  16. ^ Sharp, Rob (10 November 2008). "Short boats into Gaza with fact-finding mission". The Independent. 
  17. ^ "29 Oct 2008 : Column 1605". Retrieved 19 January 2009. 
  18. ^ Ann Farmer, By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign, CUA Press, 2008, p.261.
  19. ^ "House of Lords debates Monday, 12 January 2009". 12 January 2009. Retrieved 19 January 2009. 
  20. ^ UK lawmakers aim to 'force' Hamas talks, CNN, March 5, 2009.
  21. ^ See also MPs meet Hamas leader in Damascus, Reuters, March 14, 2009. Note that attendees including Tonge are identified in photo credits.
  22. ^ Protests held in UK cities in solidarity with people of Gaza, World Socialist Web Site, January 19, 2009.
  23. ^ Stephen Lendman, Focus on Israel: Harvesting Haitian organs?, The Palestine Telegraph, 1 February 2010.
  24. ^ Tonge: Investigate IDF stealing organs in Haiti by Simon Rocker and Martin Bright, Jewish Chronicle, February 11, 2010.
  25. ^ Former British MP Tonge: Probe claims of IDF organ theft in Haiti, Ynet, February 12, 2010.
  26. ^ Haiti organ harvesting claims false by Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post, February 14, 2010.
  27. ^ Simon Rocker and Martin Bright, Tonge: Investigate IDF stealing organs in Haiti, Jewish Chronicle, 11 February 2010
  28. ^ "Lib Dem health spokeswoman sacked". BBC. 12 February 2010. Retrieved 12 February 2010. 
  29. ^ "Baroness Tonge fired over outburst against Israeli soldiers in Haiti". The Daily Telegraph (London). 13 February 2010. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  30. ^ Tonge fired over organ harvesting remark by Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post, February 15, 2010.
  31. ^ "Israeli Apartheid Week: Discussion on "Is Israel an Aparthied State?"". Facebook. 23 February 2012. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  32. ^ Nicholas Watt "Nick Clegg urged to act after Lib Dem peer says Israel will not last for ever", The Guardian 29 February 2012
  33. ^ James Lyons, Shameless MPs demand 50% rise in second home allowances so they don't have to use public transport, Daily Mirror, November 20, 2012.
  34. ^ Maria Caspani, UK MPs call on government to act decisively to stop child marriage, Reuter's TrustLaw, November 29, 2012.
  35. ^ London's March For Gaza Attracts 15,000, Tripoli Post, November 24, 2012.
  36. ^ Banham, Mark. "Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge considers defection to Labour", International Business Times, 20 September 2015.
  37. ^ "Tom Watson says Jenny Tonge would be 'welcome' in Labour", Jewish News Online, 20 September 2015.
  38. ^ a b "Profile: Jenny Tonge". BBC. 23 January 2004. Retrieved 16 January 2009. 
  39. ^ "Obituary – Dr Keith Angus Tonge". Your Local Guardian. 5 July 2013. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  40. ^ Changes to the Register of Members' Interests,
  41. ^ Tonge, Jenny (16 April 2010). "Volcano's shadow may fall on UK ecomony [sic], but not on Heathrow flight path". The Guardian (London). 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Richmond Park

Succeeded by
Susan Kramer