What is Lee Jasper row really about?
IS there an election coming up for London mayor or something?
I'd never have guessed.
I seldom bother to read, let alone buy, the Evening Standard.
The London it depicts, of shares, shows and fashion, is not the place I've worked and lived in. A paper that plants its reporter outside City Hall on a cold night just so he could catch the mayor coming out of a party, is not my idea of serious and socially concerned journalism.
Having caught Ken Livingstone saying something daft, the Tory paper was able to call up the hosts of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in California to come riding to the aid of its "offended" reporter (who sounds more delighted on the tape), setting off a process which eventually cost the citizens a lot of money, which might have been more if the US boycott campaign had succeeded.
This phoney "antisemitism" row only reminded us, ironically, as did Ken, that the Standard comes like its mate the Daily Mail from the stables of Rothermere, the press that once cheered Hitler, Mussolini and Mosley with headlines like "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!"
But last Friday evening, starting a long Central Line journey, I stepped into an empty carriage and picked up a discarded Standard , which has taken to calling itself "London's Quality Newspaper", I suppose to distinguish itself from the freebies now handed out all round town. As it otherwise enjoys a monopoly I suppose it can call itself what it likes. But it is certainly not London's equality paper.
Inside was a two-page spread "investigation" by Andrew Gilligan, attacking the mayor's senior Equality adviser Lee Jasper, under the heading "Ken's £117,000 aide lives in £90pw council house".
I've nothing against criticism of Lee Jasper, or Ken Livingstone and the rest of his team. Matter of fact I was dissing Jasper and his position in the anti-racist movement only a few days before.
First time we were asked to vote if we wanted an elected mayor I wrote on my ballot paper that we wanted proper local democracy, not this travesty. Then like others I voted for Ken Livingstone, because he was seen as having stood up first to Margaret Thatcher, who abolished the Greater London Council, then to Blair, who pushed the mayor idea but tried to block him as candidate. But Livingstone has filled the mayor role only too well, with his gimmicky policies, showmanship for business, and personal patronage. With his call to tube workers to cross picket lines, and his support for the police killers of Jean-Charles de Menezes, Livingstone has blown any shared of credibility he had on the Left, let alone enthusiasm.
Rather than listen to the labour movement, Livingstone has a clique of over-paid advisers around him, mostly from the secretive Socialist Action grouplet or those who have been its allies in the anti-racist movement, such as Lee Jasper. A lightweight who has found his way from castigating the police to defending them, Jasper is supposed to be the voice of the "black community" at Ken's ear, though nobody has elected him to speak for them, rather he has been selected for his well-paid task, just like the rest of the crew.
I'm inclined to distrust the kind of anti-racism or any other movement that purports to change things by advancing some individuals up the ladder with those in power, rather than working at the grass-roots in communities, and work-places, encouraging people to discover their own power. I also question how people who claim to be believe in goals like equality need such big salaries and perks to ensure their commitment to the cause; or how those less well-off are expected to believe that commitment, especially when our leaders require us to make sacrifices, or tell public service workers to restrain their pay.
My fellow-blogger Kevin Blowe has some well-informed and thoughtful comment also, see
The Greater London Authority is looking into what happened to £2.5 million of public funding that went to organisations like Brixton Base with which Lee Jasper has had connections, though he only provided advice on funding and occasionally met people at offices of Brixton Base (which is said to have received £535,000 to dispense). The Standard is claiming credit for revealing the sums, though so far all we have heard is that GLA Tories are raising "serious issues" about Lee Jasper's conduct. If the Standard had evidence of wrong-doing it would presumably have presented this to the police.
What about that £90 a week house? It turns out to be a Victorian terraced house in Clapham, owned by a housing association. (Gilligan refers to "fashionable bars and shops", forgetting the urban decay and violent crime for which Clapham is also noted). Surely if Lee Jasper was found to be living in a palatial mansion in Surrey or penthouse in Knightsbridge that would be far more telling, suggesting he had become remote from the people he purports to speak for, and that we ought to examine the source of his funds?
The Standard in fact is complaining that Jasper is living below his means, when with his salary he should be paying the inflated houseprice or rents that make London a city for the rich. Maybe that's not surprising for a paper that owes much of its advertising revenue to the property business. How dare he not make his sacrifice on the altar of mammon, and help keep up the property prices?!
But the Standard - and those it speaks for - have another argument.
"Mr.Jasper speaks a lot about helping the needy, but by his presence in this house he is depriving a needy family of a home", says Tory assembly member Richard Barnes, whose views occur more than once. Really? Is this the same Tory party which used its control of nearby Wandsworth council to deprive thousands of needy families of the chance of a home by putting council houses and entire new estates up for sale to anyone with the money?
I don't remember what investigations the Standard or any other paper made into that business. I do know that the pioneers of Wandsworth privatisation were rewarded with posts in Margaret Thatcher's government. And of course we all know that a Tory called
Dame Shirley Porter ran into trouble when she tried to combine house sales with gerrymandering in Westminster, at the same time as shoving homeless families into asbestos-ridden flats, until she got caught at it.
Funnily, enough, there was a reminder of that for those in the know, and with good memories, reading the Standard article.
A little added piece at the bottom says "A doctor who paid for the education of one of Lee Jasper's children was appointed to Ken Livingstone's advisory cabinet on the recommendation of Mr. Jasper who failed to declare an interest".
As with the "council house" story, it does not live up to expectation.
The doctor in question, west London GP Richard Stone, helped Jasper with his child's nursery education, some time before Jasper became a mayoral adviser. Since Dr.Stone has been involved in community relations work for some time, and was also an adviser to the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, there is nothing odd about his choice to be a mayoral adviser. Since he also runs a charitable trust, the Stone Ashdown Trust, assisting minorities integration in British society, he is not likely to be devoting time to London anti-racist matters for personal gain. His advisory position is unpaid.
But there is something else about Dr.Richard Stone which the Standard does not mention. When the case was building up against Dame Shirley Porter in Westminster, one of the people who gave evidence was a local GP. He asked how it was that whenever he recommended patients as needing rehousing, the council told him it did not have suitable housing available; and yet whenever he went out on visits, he passed by empty council properties which were boarded up and later acquired "For Sale" signs.
The doctor who raised this question was Dr.Richard Stone.
At the time when Dame Shirley Porter still ruled the roost at Westminster City Hall she too had her advisers. Among them was a fellow who city hall staff were reportedly afraid to mention by name but referred to as "thingy". His name was Roger Rosewell, a former organiser with the Socialist Workers Party who had crossed over to the other side and never looked back, doing rather well for himself (though he had to pay his own children's school fees). Rosewell was not on the Westminster staff but had an office at the Daily Mail. That's the sister paper of the Standard of course. But I'm sure that's nothing to do with what Andrew Gilligan writes.
There is an election coming, and the Tories are saddled with Boris Johnson as mayoral candidate. I guess they need all the help they can get. I guess we might as well be aware of that. Not that it will stop me criticising Lee Jasper or Ken Livingstone. But we have to be particular whom we share our criticism with.