And on Friday morning I drive past Ken Livingstone…..
Driving along Anson Road, Cricklewood, at around 9.15 am on Friday morning (24 February ) guess who I spot? Ken Livingstone with his toddler son out for a walk. Not that it is unusual to see Ken in Willesden Green, because that is where he lives ñ and he uses the public transport to get to and form work. I have seen him myself commuting a couple of times. But what was he doing out at this time rather than being in at his mayoral office in City Hall? Then it dawned on me ñ it must be to do with the decision of the kangaroo court aka Adjudication Council. What a travesty! To punish our best elected leader for offending a journalist! Ken has been suspended for a month.
I voted for Ken in 2004 and so did most of my friends. Why? Because he is down-to-earth, approachable and stands up to the bully boys. I went to one of the election hustings in which he was on a panel with other Mayoral hopefuls ñ Steve Norris for the Conservatives and Simon Hughes for the Lib Dems. Ken was the only one who spoke with passion about poverty and deprivation. He connected with us when he spoke about the need to give training and apprenticeships to young Bangladeshis – that their destiny in life is not just in the catering or rag trades, but there should be positive action to help them into the financial sector and manufacturing.
It appears that a complaint to the Adjudication Council was made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Ken, leaving a party last year, was intercepted by an Evening Standard reporter ñ a paper that belongs to the Daily Mail group, reviled by many for casting immigrants and asylum seekers in the worst possible light. Kenís account of the encounter with journalist Mr Finegold is as follows: ‘Pursuing me along the pavement thrusting your tape recorder at me whilst repeatedly barking the same question when I had clearly indicated I did not wish to be interviewed by you is not acceptable behaviour by you or any other journalist. Indeed a member of the public behaving in this way could find themselves arrested for a breach of peace. Many other journalists will confirm I have made similar comments to them over the last twenty-four years’.
Ken asked the reporter if he was a ‘German war criminal’. Mr Finegold replied: “No, I’m Jewish… I’m quite offended by that.” Ken then said,’Ah right, well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?”. So what is the big deal? I am at a loss to detect the anti-Semitism. It was just banter between a politician and a journalist.
It is not difficult to read in this episode a settling of scores – the urge to make a mountain out of mole hill. It is an understatement to say that Ken has never been a fan of Israel. He is an outspoken critic of Zionist terrorism as perpetrated by the Irgun and Stern gangs. He makes no bones that Sharon is a war criminal. He has raised the issue of British-born Jews joining the Israeli army – presumably then taking duties in the illegal settlements – much to Melanie Phillips’ ire. He stands by his decision to maintain a dialogue with Shaikh Qardawi. He has a sense of history and remembers the King David Hotel bombings and the Deir Yassin massacre.
Writing in The Guardian in March last year, Ken said, ‘Throughout the 1970s, I worked happily with the Board of Deputies in campaigns against the National Front. Problems began when, as leader of the Greater London Council, I rejected the board’s request that I should fund only Jewish organisations that it approved of. The Board of Deputies was unhappy that I funded Jewish organisations campaigning for gay rights and others that disagreed with policies of the Israeli government. Relations with the board took a dramatic turn for the worse when I opposed Israel’s illegal invasion of Lebanon, culminating in the massacres at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila. The board also opposed my involvement in the successful campaign in 1982 to convince the Labour party to recognise the PLO as the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people. The fundamental issue on which we differ, as Henry Grunwald knows, is not anti-Semitism – which my administration has fought tooth and nail – but the policies of successive Israeli governments’.
Ken is not the first politician to be punished for this this type of stand – remember David Mellor, the junior minister at the FCO who publicly told off an Israeli officer for beating up Palestinian schoolchildren in Gaza, or the lambasting Robin Cook received for protesting about an Israeli settlement at Har Homa near Bethlehem?
As for the charge of anti-semitism – what rubbish. London and Londoners owe Ken a lot for creating a climate of respect and courtesy across the board. In fact there has been a reduction in anti-semitic incidents in London – I believe down by 25% in recent years. Even the Board of Deputiesí own stats indicate an 14% decrease from last year.
Take heart, Ken, you have many friends and admirers here in Cricklewood. If you decide to appeal against the Adjudication Council’s ruling then there are many who will happily chip in and contribute to your legal fees. I am sure my Mum would even sell some of her jewellery – like the old days when it was necessary to rally round and provide material support for a cause. (1120)