Livingstone Must Go! – commentary from Phillip Collins in the Times


This is the last straw. Livingstone must go

The former mayor of London has a history of objectionable views that cannot be allowed to poison Labour any longer

Just after the turn of the century I attended one of the finest speeches by a Labour politician I can recall. At the Labour Friends of Israel annual lunch, Gordon Brown, who was then chancellor, moved his audience to tears, me included, with stories of visiting Israel as a boy with his father, a Church of Scotland minister, to celebrate the Jewish return to Zion that was prophesied in the Bible. Mr Brown spoke without notes, with barely controlled emotion and an impressive command of the historical facts. He did not spare the Israeli government of the day but he paid his dues to the terrible past. I felt proud to be a member of a party in which this man was a leading figure.

Yesterday, Ken Livingstone, the former Labour mayor of London, said on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme that antisemites don’t just hate Jews in Israel, they also hate their neighbours in Golders Green. It is, apparently, possible to hate (I stress the word hate) Jews in Israel and not be antisemitic. Last week, Channel 4’s Unreported World showed the penury in which some Holocaust survivors live in Israel. It is, according to Mr Livingstone, possible to hate those people and not be thought antisemitic. To be a member of this party on such a day, in concert with such a man, is to feel pride’s opposite, which is shame. How did it ever come to this?

It came to this because the party elected a feeble incompetent as its leader and all the filth has swept in. Jeremy Corbyn did not create antisemitism on the left, nor does he seek to foster it. But all leaders have an ambit, a space around them in which some beliefs are licensed and others are proscribed. A life on the fringe left of British politics steeps its student members in the ignorant loathing of America and Israel. Under a serious leader these people are nowhere near the seat of power. Under Mr Corbyn one of them is Seumas Milne, the director of strategy, who allows a terrible story to run for hours with no comment at all from the leader. There is an adage that, in modern politics, you are either quick or you are dead. Labour adds a third category: zombie.

The chief zombie, stretching back years now, is Ken Livingstone. It is no surprise to anyone who has followed his career that Mr Livingstone is full of bilious ignorance. The only surprise is that he has lost his political touch to the extent that he is no longer concealing his bigotry behind the façade of bonhomie. The political professional in Mr Livingstone would never have told an interviewer that the forcible deportation of the Jews (Naz Shah’s charming suggestion) was no worse than “rude”. Even if he agreed with the sentiment, he would have spotted the trap and declined to fall into it. One really does have to wonder if he isn’t becoming a little unhinged. Even if he is, these remarks are merely the rising to the surface of a nastiness that has always lurked below the water-line. Now that Mr Livingstone has been suspended by the party pending an investigation into his conduct, let us prepare the charge sheet.

As leader of the Greater London Council, Mr Livingstone was chief culprit in the infantile Labour politics of the 1980s in which gestures and postures took the name of action. This was the London of the nuclear-free zone and funding for Babies Against The Bomb. Every strike supported, no matter the merits of the case, a relish for taking spending decisions to the courts in defiance of basic Micawber principles of finance, an indefensible advocacy of perpetrators of violence in Northern Ireland.

In recent times, Mr Livingstone’s adolescent view of the world took him to City Hall where he fastened on the bright idea of buying oil from the egregious Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Despite the preening self-righteousness that allowed him to denounce tax avoiders as “rich bastards who should not be allowed to vote”, Mr Livingstone established Silveta Ltd, into which he paid his freelance earnings, so as to minimise his tax bill. Too large a fraction of those earnings came from Press TV, a channel owned and controlled by the government of Iran, a theocratic regime that denies the truth of the Holocaust and advocates stoning for adultery and homosexuality. Those are causes also taken up by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Mr Livingstone’s friend, who supports female genital mutilation, suicide bombing in Israel and the whipping of homosexuals.

Soon people will not be able to look Labour friends in the eye

The prejudice was there all along. During preparation for the Olympics Mr Livingstone told two Jewish businessmen, David and Simon Reuben, to go back where he believed they came from, which was Iran (though in fact they were from India). Door-stepped by Oliver Finegold, a Jewish reporter on the London Evening Standard, Mr Livingstone compared him to a guard at a concentration camp. During his failed bid to be re-elected mayor in 2008, Mr Livingstone suggested he could do without the votes of Jews because they were all stinking rich.

This is all bad enough but yesterday was the end. A member of Labour’s national executive committee toured the broadcasting studios to say that, in 1932, Hitler’s policy was to deport the Jews to Israel (a non-existent country). It is not worth the effort to begin to unravel either the historical stupidity or the unconscionable offence.

Just get rid of this superannuated fool. The investigation can be done in days. It all happened live, on LBC and the BBC. Until he hid in a disabled toilet, Mr Livingstone was parading his venomous ignorance all over town. The evidence is in. There can be no equivocation, no tiresome distinctions between Zionism, Israel and antisemitism. Just get out, Ken, and take your poisonous entourage with you.

There will soon come a time when people like me cannot look good friends in the eye if we remain members of a party that includes the likes of Ken Livingstone. This is not the centre of gravity in the party, of course it’s not. John Mann, MP, spoke for Labour when he denounced Mr Livingstone as a Nazi apologist. Yet a London mayoral candidate has just had to interrupt his campaign to denounce his predecessor as a racist. How could it have come to this? How could it ever have come to this?

In his autobiography, Mr Livingstone writes that joining the Labour party in 1968 was “one of the few recorded instances of a rat climbing aboard a sinking ship”. That is only half right; Labour stayed afloat. It will sink, though, under the weight of this prejudice because good people will leave. The first move is to expel Ken Livingstone. He can retire and write another autobiography. He can call it My Struggle.

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