Saturday, February 25, 2006

Turn again Livingston?

WHILE there was a world campaign over supposed "offence" caused by London's mayor, Ken Livingston, it was left to socialists and Unite Against Fascism (hon.pres. one Ken Livingston) to organise this protest last year, uniting Jews, Muslims and other local people against massive desecration of Jewish graves in London's West Ham cemetery.

Late at night on February 8 last year a 60-year old man stepped out of City Hall in London, where he had been attending a party held by Gay and Lesbian staff, and was waylaid by a reporter asking him how the party had gone.

Whether it had been a long day or short drinks, Mayor Ken Livingston (for it was he) did not wish to be interviewed, and in the course of indicating this, asked the Evening Standard reporter if he had been "German war criminal". The reporter, Oliver Finegold replied that he was Jewish, and offended by that.

Livingston: "Ah right, well you might be [Jewish], but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?

Finegold: Great, I have you on record for that. So, how was tonight?

Livingston: It's nothing to do you with you because your paper is a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots.

Finegold: I'm a journalist and I'm doing my job. I'm only asking for a comment.

Livingston: Well, work for a paper that doesn't have a record of supporting fascism.

With that the mayor walked off, and the journalist said something off-record..

As a result, elected Mayor Livingston is to be suspended (on full pay) for four weeks from March 1, by order of a non-elected Adjudication Panel, after the local government standards commission had only recommended a reprimand. He faces £80,000 in costs, but may appeal. The case arose from a complaint by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

There is quite an irony in this. As a spokesperson for the mayor was able to point out after the exchange became public a few days later, the Evening Standard is owned by the same firm as the Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers, whose founders were notorious admirers of Hitler fascism.

"In the 1930s Lord Rothermere and the Daily Mail were supporters of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. Rothermere wrote an article, 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts', in January 1934, in which he praised Mosley for his 'sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine', and the paper published articles lamenting the number of German Jews entering Britain as refugees after the rise of Nazism.

"Rothermere had several meetings with Adolf Hitler, and addressed him as 'My Dear Fuhrer' in letters and telegrams. He argued that the Nazi leader wanted peace, and in 1934 campaigned for the African land confiscated in the Versailles Treaty to be returned to Germany".

In the 1980s the Greater London Council, which KenLivingstone headed till it was abolished by Margaret Thatcher, decided to boycott the Evening Standard over its use of offensive cartoons depicting "the Irish" as all terrorists, and black people as savage cannibals.

In recent years the Mail has employed Jewish journalists (including the awful 'neo-con' admiring columnist Melanie Philips, "Mad Mel" as my friends call her), while following the tradition of its anti-Jewish refugee attacks with front-page stories attacking asylum seekers. On Britain's first official Holocaust memorial day there was a demonstration outside the Mail and Standard offices in Kensington, initiated by Jewish Socialists, and joined by refugee groups. When some anti-racist campaigners sought to repeat this the following year they were met by a counter-demonstration defending the Mail organised by the British National Party.

Mayor Livingston has not avoided connections with the Standard, which is London's only evening newspaper. London Underground co-operated with Associated Newspapers in distributing the free Metro paper at tube stations, and the mayor himself supplemented his not inconsiderable salary with earnings as a restaurant columnist.

Oliver Finegold could have accusedLivingstone of inconsistency. He could have complained to the National Union of Journalists - if he is a member - about the Mayor insulting him. While he was at it he could perhaps have criticised his employers for making him hang around outside City Hall on a cold February night in the hope of catching an off-guard remark from Livingston.

Maybe. But the remark "Great, I have you on record for that". suggests a man who, offended or not, felt he had got a result as a newspaperman.

(For anyone who has been worried about coming to London by fears of crime, racism, rip-off prices and terrorism, it must be reassuring to learn we have so little happening here a reporter is assigned to cover the mayor's social life).

In response to criticism, Livingston made clear that he had not wished to offend members of the Jewish community or to in any way belittle the racist crime of the Nazi Holocaust.

On February 22 2005, he was able to get back at suggestions he had made light of it by reports of something that had happened at a party in Associated Newspapers' own house.
"Ken Livingstone today wrote to the editors of the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard - both owned by Associated Newspapers - asking them to apologise for an incident in which senior Associated Newspaper staff appeared at a Daily Mail party dressed in Nazi uniforms. The revelations about the Nazi uniforms worn at the party were made in national newspapers this week, and a statement issued by Associated Newspapers yesterday confirmed that members of staff had attended the party in Nazi uniform. The mayor's letter came following demands from both newspapers, including an editorial in today's West End Final of the Evening Standard, that the mayor apologise for remarks made to an Evening Standard reporter.

In his letter to the editor of the Evening Standard, Veronica Wadley, the mayor said:
'Which may be taken as infinitely more offensive - my remarks or the appearance of five members of Associated Press staff in Nazi uniforms? If you consider I should apologise for my remarks why have you therefore not demanded that Associated Newspapers apologise for this event?
'In the press statement by Associated Newspapers it states that the former editor of the Daily Mail, Sir David English, considered this incident as in "bad taste". Why were those involved not asked to leave? Why were they not asked to apologise? Why was no disciplinary action taken against them? I assure you that if any member of my staff were to appear in Nazi uniforms they would be instantly dismissed. It is also still not clear if any of those present at the party, including those who wore Nazi uniform, are still on the staff of Associated Newspapers.'

(press release)

But the Zionist-dominated Board of Deputies has never forgiven Livingston for his support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. They blamed him for a cartoon in Labour Herald depicting Menachem Begin in Nazi uniform.

When the GLC announced a programme to assist ethnic minorities in London for an "anti-racist year", the Board announced that Jews wanted nothing to do with it. Hearing then that several Jewish groups had already applied for grants, the Board offered to vet applications. Some Orthodox Jews said the Board had no business deciding for them, and GLC proceeded without the Deputies' advice. Among its grants, unforgivable in the eyes of Tories and Zionists alike, was one to the Jewish Socialists' Group.

This was used for the Jewish Cultural and Anti-Racist Project (JCARP), fostering Diaspora culture, links with other minorities, and anti-racist campaigning. Not on the surface a directly "anti-Zionist" programme, except it ran right against Established interests and Zionist priorities.

Some years later, when the GLC had been abolished and Livingston was sitting in parliament, I had a phone call from someone wondering if I'd be willing to help with a book about Ken Livingston. Flattered though I was, I confessed that I'd only very briefly met Livingston once, and knew nothing about him that had not appeared in the newspapers. My friendly go-between then explained that the would-be author had been given access to Board of Deputies files, and seeing my name in connection with Labour Herald, thought I might know something about it.

Maybe I should have gone along for a free lunch, and to find out what they had in those Deputies files. But, much as I'd become critical of Livingston (not least for his accusation that comrades of mine were "MI5 agents"!), I had no inside information and besides, what sort of writer was being assisted by the Board of Deputies?

I have not seen the promised book, but when Livingston stood in 2000 for the newly-created post of London Mayor, newspapers received a dossier of stale material about him from the Board of Deputies. So far as a majority of Londoners were concerned, being opposed by Thatcher and Tony Blair was an accolade, and the Board's 'dirt' made no difference. The one-time "Red Ken" was elected twice, in 2000 and 2004, but still they try.

Some Jewish officials have alternated between claiming "deep offence" to the entire Jewish community and saying Livingston could have avoided the row if he apologised to the reporter (ignoring his apology if any offence was caused to Jewish people). But the Board has been joined in this recent campaign by the more strident voice of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Demanding that Livingston "Apologise Now for Antisemitic and Anti-Israel Comments", the well-funded SWC persuaded some US mayors to announce they would have nothing to do with London's mayor. Its international campaign accusing Livingston of "fuelling" antisemitic attacks has been echoed by some Zionist websites, outraged that the mayor not only insulted a Jewish reporter but "slandered Ariel Sharon" (as though the mayor said anything worse about Sharon than could be read in Israeli newspapers).

The Community Security Trust, whose stewards have often seemed more concerned with "protecting" Jewish events from subversive left-wing Jews than from right-wing antisemites, has claimed that antisemitic incidents increased after Livingston's remarks - as though anyone would have heard about the remarks except from the papers attacking Livingston, and the fuss aroused in the Jewish community.

If they were really worried about antisemitism, perhaps they should consider the possible effect on many Londoners, even those no longer fond of Livingston, on learning that their democratically elected mayor has been even temporarily removed from his office by an unelected three-man panel which few people had previously heard of; And that this was at the behest of two minority bodies, one of them American, and both of them largely taking their cue from Israeli policies.

Livingston's deputy mayor Nicky Gavron who temporarily takes over is Jewish, and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Used to working with the mayor she has firmly rejected the accusation that he is anti-Jewish, and criticised the way he was suspended by an unelected body. Prominent Labour and trade union figures have also rallied behind Livingston. Having lost popularity in recent years through things like congestion charges, alienated a lot of left-wing support by his attitude to tube trade unions, and antagonised others by his ill-advised invitations (and over-paid advisers), Livingston might come out of all this smiling, as support returns.

Some Tory papers seem to have trained our so-called leaders when to bark and whom to bark at. They tell us when we are supposed to be "offended", as with the manufactured outrage last year over a poster cartoon of Michael Howard.

Many Jewish people disagree with the Board of Deputies's choice of friends as well as enemies. Many disliked Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' attempt to make Jewish-Christian relations in Britain supposedly depend on the Church of England synod reversing its decision to disinvest from Caterpillar (supplier of bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes). Leaders like these drag the community's name in dirt by associating it with obnoxious policies. They also increase the danger that having cried wolf so many times falsely accusing the wrong people, there will be nobody to speak, or listen, against real antisemitism. These leaders don't speak for us. It is time we made our own voices heard more loudly. .
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At 8:43 AM, Blogger DesertPeace said...

Thanks for the insight on this issue Charlie... sounds like that Mayor is a real 'winner'. Hopefully he will win a place on line to collect the Dole... rather than return to office.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

great round up of all the background to this pathetic witch hunt. Ken Livingstone (with all his faults) will be remembered for policies that will make LOondon a better place to live - his critics (if remembered at all) will be seen as reactionary bigots

from "Dorothy Serious", Golders Green

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

seems friends are sending me their comments rather than signing up
(a precaution against spammers and worse). Making me do more work. Anyway that was Dorothy, and here's Sue K from the USA:

I tried to respond, but the site wanted me to sign up.

So here's what I was going to say:

Thanks for this Charlie. Those of us outside the UK have been trying to figure out what the hell is going on and who the players are - not the least those unelected officials who can suspend an elected mayor. I appreciate the contextualization.


At 2:09 AM, Blogger JohnBradbury said...

Unless Mr Livingston actually broke the law they have no popwer to remove an elected official from office.

Even the prime minister doesn't have this power, at the very least it would require the concent of both houses of parliment.


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