Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Old wounds, and the war of the cartoons

EVENING STANDARD, 28 October 1982.
The GLC responded by banning advertising in the Tory paper. Is the Standard still making Ken Livingstone pay for this punishment?

I'M going to vote tomorrow for who should be Mayor of London, and for assembly members, and while I have little enthusiasm for either the institution or the candidates, I am going to vote to defend what I have (my Freedom Pass! No I don't trust Boris' "guarantee"), and against the Tories and the racists.

I'm not keen on Ken, still less on his cabal of advisers (if you ask me they're more like masons than Marxists, whatever the press pretends). I don't like his preoccupation with boosting a Muslim cleric or defending the killers of Jean Charles de Menezes. But it's best to have Livingstne and Labour in, if we want to criticise from the Left and develop a working class socialist alternative.

Sad to say, the Left, even those who managed to get together for Greg Tucker's funeral the other week and will be marching together for May Day, will be all over the show when it comes to voting tomorrow. The official TUC to Morning Star left is sticking with Livingstone, for fear of something worse. Then there's Lindsey German and the Left List, only recently with Galloway in Respect; there's Alan Thornett's Socialist Resistance still in Respect but eyeing the Greens and recommending their Sian Berry as second choice; and there's a list from the Communist Party of Britain and sister parties, for old time's sake. Some people tell me it's the working class that is "confused", and what's more, they are going to provide us with leadership
That's when they have talked to each other, which they haven't even got round to doing before this election.

But I can say something about the reactionary attack on Livingstone, and where it is coming from. It started before some of the electorate voting tomorrow were born. Take the conflict over the cartoons. After Ken referred the other day to Boris' remarks about "picaninnies" (in that organ of upper-class twittery, the Spectator), Boris came back with a claim that Ken had published "antisemitic cartoons" in the paper he ran.

If that was alluding to the long-defunct Labour Herald, which was Ken Livingstone and Lambeth council leader Ted Knight's paper back in the 1980s, I used to read it, and even on occasion wrote for it, but I don't remember it carrying any antisemitic cartoons. I do flatter myself that I have a better eye for such things than the Member for Henley on Thames. It did carry a cartoon that is supposed to have upset the Board of Deputies of British Jews. It depicted Menachem Begin, then the prime minister of Israel, prancing in Nazi uniform after the massacres of Palestinians in Sabra and Chatila camps. A bit crude, perhaps, a bit offensive, maybe even unfair insofar as the precise responsibility for the massacres lay with Defence Minister Ariel Sharon who unleashed the Christian fascists ("Israel's 'Ukrainians'" as an Israeli friend of mine, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, dubbed the killers, in a historical allusion). But not half as offensive as the massacres which occasioned the cartoon.

I remember hearing a real antisemite, a National Front supporter, rejoicing at the massacres, and laughing about how the Israelis had "stood and watched", and having to resist my impulse to punch his face because I'd have lost my job. I remember the big demonstration of revulsion in Israel, and the protests and commemorations we held here. But I don't remember what the Board of Deputies said. As for antisemitism, the only people I remember blaming the Lebanon war on Jews were the Tory MP Toby Marlow and the Tory Daily Express, now fiercely anti-Muslim, but then showing devastation in Beirut with a comment blaming American Jews. I don't think the Board of Deputies noticed, being too busy avidly perusing and pursuing Labour Herald.

But talking of controversial cartoons, reminds me of the one by Jak, in the London Evening Standard, with which I've illustrated this column. It depicts a supposed poster for a horror film called "The Irish", billed as "the ultimate in psychopathic horror". It was published on 29 October, 1982, that's not long after the Labour Herald cartoon of Begin. The Standard man did not bother with insulting this or that leader, but just "the Irish" would do. Try imagining if some paper at the time of the Lebanon war, or back in the 1940s when Jewish terrorists were blowing up British soldiers and officials (and Arab buses) in Palestine, had carried something attacking "the Jews". Some people did attack Jews in Britain back then. They were Mosleyite fascists.
(but let's not bring up the Rothermere press earlier infatuation with Mosley and his Blackshirts).

After protests by the Irish in Britain Representation Group to the Greater London Council's Ethnic Minorities' Unit the GLC decided to withhold advertising from the unrepentant Evening Standard. As Ken Livingstone said:
"The clear message of the cartoon is that the Irish, as a race and as a community, are murderous, mindless thugs...I do not believe in free speech for racists...We will not put another penny into the Standard while they continue to vilify the Irish."
(quoted in 'Nothing But the Same Old Story: the roots of anti-Irish racism', 1984).

The GLC had been spending about £100,000 a year on its advertising with the Standard. That was quite a lot of money the paper lost as a result of that cartoon. I'm not saying it's the only reason they have got it in for Ken Livingstone, or why they planted a reporter to doorstep the mayor coming out of a party late one cold night, so he could be insulted; nor for them backing Boris Johnstone. But, just as with the treatment Livingstone has come to expect from the Zionists and the Board of Deputies, on which I've commented before, these things do run deep.

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