by David Talbot
In January 2004 a controversial member of the Labour family was readmitted to the fold. Ken Livingstone, the hitherto independent Mayor of London, had submitted his application before Labour’s NEC in order to run as the official Labour candidate in the forthcoming second London-wide ballot.
Livingstone had been expelled from party membership for five years in 2000 when, having been blocked by the party’s hierarchy from running as its official candidate for Mayor, he stood as an independent. Labour’s gerrymandering of the selection procedure, coupled with its heavy-handedness in throwing out the longstanding MP, merely resulted in Livingstone beating Labour’s official candidate into a humiliating fourth place.
Upon his return to the Labour column a jubilant Livingstone described it all as an unfortunate misunderstanding and of a marriage that had temporarily broken down. It is near long-forgotten that this fiercely independent firebrand lobbied extensively for his readmission to the party. But since then Livingstone has abused this “marriage of convenience” with the Labour party to the point where many right-minded Labourites can no longer willingly tolerant his membership of their party.
He has taken all he could from the relationship, and given scant in return. The charge sheet of abuse, varying in seriousness, is so extensive and so oft-repeated it is barely worth the bandwidth to detail further; campaigning against an official Labour candidate in 2010, admitting that he never voted Labour under Tony Blair’s leadership, whilst throwing in the customary charge that he should be tried for war crimes; his tax avoidance, his penchant for the mullahs of Tehran, telling the Reuben brothers to go “back where they came from”, likening a journalist to a concentration camp guard – even after he knew he was Jewish, his distaste for the Jewish community in general, and his patronage of Shaykh Yusuf Al Qaradaw, who denies the Holocaust, promotes female genital mutilation, and urges the throwing of homosexuals from rooftops as a punishment for their sin.
Many within Labour found him unpalatable in 2012. Some of us held our nose. Most of us now know better. Livingstone has reiterated his attack on the country’s Jewish community, telling Newsnight, as reported in the Telegraph, that as the nation has got richer so the resident Jewish population have shifted their political allegiances from Labour to Conservative.
It is difficult to know where to begin with such a crass comment. Livingstone’s bile has often been aimed at Jews who have been trying very hard to support him. He has a clear willingness to dismiss and diminish Jewish concerns in a way that he simply doesn’t for other minority groups.
Expulsion from Labour is almost too good for Livingstone. Forever the narcissist, he would welcome the exposure and notoriety. His supporters, who remain in number, would mutter of New Labour conspiracies. They may even threaten to break away and set up yet another new party of the left.
He seemingly spends his days obsessing over the London mayoralty which, if he wasn’t such a divisive and ultimately appalling figure, he would never have lost in the first place. It is no doubt galling for Livingstone to realise that Blair last won an election more recently than he did.
There often comes a time when relationships break down. Livingstone’s with Labour clearly has. Luckily, he will never hold high office again. But there comes a point when the Labour party, led by Ed Miliband, a man of Jewish descent, will have to decide whether it wants such a prominent figure persistently making such revolting remarks.
David Talbot is a political consultant