Ken Livingstone on Hitler: 1,000 Jewish Labour supporters urge expulsion

Jessica Elgot and Rowena Mason
More than 1,000 Labour supporters have written to the Guardian condemning the decision not to expel Livingstone. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA

More than 1,000 Jewish Labour members and supporters have written to the Guardian condemning the decision not to expel Ken Livingstone over his comments linking Adolf Hitler with Zionism, in a move putting more pressure on the party leadership to take urgent action.

The letter, signed by influential party members including Luciana Berger MP, former deputy mayor of London Nicky Gavron, and chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, Jeremy Newmark, describes Livingstone’s comments as a “betrayal”.

“His history of inflammatory remarks against our community, be it his suggestions that our community’s ‘wealth’ determines our vote, or his recent smears of victims of the Holocaust, surely have no place in a progressive party,” the letter reads.

“The Jewish community has a proud history with Labour, but this decision has thrown its future into jeopardy. We are sick of the complacency shown towards the prejudice we face. Enough is enough.”

The letter also backs a proposal to bring a debate on the former mayor’s expulsion to Labour party conference. It comes as senior Labour figures push to bring forward an inquiry into Livingstone’s most recent comments, amid legal worries that trying to overturn the first verdict suspending him from the party would end in the courts.

After Livingstone was given an additional year’s suspension from the party over persistent comments that have been condemned as antisemitic, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has referred the former mayor of London back to the party’s national executive committee on the grounds that he had “failed to acknowledge or apologise for the hurt he has caused”.

Party officials are concerned that if the NEC were to overrule the initial decision to suspend rather than expel him, it could give ammunition to Livingstone’s legal team to argue he has not been given due process but hounded out for political reasons.

Three senior party sources said they now believed the most effective way of trying to oust Livingstone from Labour was to concentrate on comments he has made since June, arguing that he has compounded his wrongdoing by failing to show remorse for having brought the party into disrepute.

But Labour members continued to express their dismay at the decision, with Gavron, who stood in for Livingstone as mayor in 2006 when he was suspended for four weeks for comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard, saying his views had “no place in the Labour party”.

London Assembly member Gavron, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, has previously defended the former mayor of London but said she had been dismayed at his recent conduct.

“Having worked constructively with Ken Livingstone as his deputy mayor for seven years and seeing his commitment to help make London a better place for people of all faith and races, I am once again dismayed by his ill-judged media comments,” she said.

“If anyone else was continuing to be so offensive to a community, they would be called a racist. These have no place in the Labour party that I am proud to represent.”

There is political will from most factions of the party to act swiftly in bringing Livingstone’s latest behaviour to the party’s disputes process, though the most recent action took a total of 11 months.

“There are people in the party actively exploring how this can be done,” one well-placed source said. “If you avoid a jail sentence for a crime because the court believes mitigating factors, but then you immediately spend the next 48 hours committing the same crime and appear before a judge and jury again, it’s unlikely they’ll be lenient again.”

There is precedent for members who have brought the party into disrepute to be hauled up in front of the NCC in as little six weeks, despite Livingstone’s case taking many months. “Those who are ruling this time now have a precedent – Ken was found to have brought the party into disrepute, and has repeated the same behaviour while suspended,” the source said.

The national executive committee’s disputes panel, the junior disciplinary body which refers the most serious cases to the NCC for potential expulsion, is not due to meet again until July. One source close to the NEC said if allowed to run on the normal timeline, Livingstone would be unlikely to appear in front of the NCC again before the party’s conference.

“I can’t imagine anyone thinking it’s acceptable to wait that long to get it done,” the source said. “It is possible to call an emergency meeting of the disputes panel, and there is an full NEC meeting scheduled for May, so it might be urgently attached to them. I just don’t think it’s tenable to wait until July before it’s even discussed.”

Questions have also been raised about Unite’s Russell Cartwright, one of the panel of three Labour NCC members who ruled on Livingstone’s suspension. Cartwright, who is staff to Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins, has been secretary and treasurer of the leftwing Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.
CLPD campaigns for leftwing officials to be elected to the party – including for Livingstone’s previous election to Labour’s NEC. Its official Facebook page has numerous posts calling for Livingstone to be reinstated to the party.

“Great to see a wide range of people opposing the proposed expulsion of Ken Livingstone from Labour across social media,” one post reads from before the hearing.

Richard Angell, director of centrist Labour pressure group Progress, said: “Russell Cartwright should have recused from the NCC panel this week. The CLPD backed Ken for the NEC year after year until he was suspended last year. People should not be sat in judgement of their close faction allies.”

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