The day when the former London mayor Ken Livingstone hid in a disabled toilet while a gaggle of reporters shouted questions about Hitler through the door did not happen because he had gone on the radio and said that Hitler supported Zionism. It did not happen because he had defended Naz Shah’s self-confessed antisemitic words as merely “rude”. It did not happen because he has a history of saying extremely dodgy things about Jews and wealth and concentration camps. Oh no, it happened because he is a supporter of Corbyn and the entire media is out to get him.
This was a huge part of his defence after a disciplinary panel found him guilty of bringing the party into disrepute and suspended him from holding office for a year. “I am being attacked by the right wing of the Labour party because I support Palestinian human rights and strongly back our leader, Jeremy Corbyn,” he said.
Livingstone claims he has never heard any antisemitic remarks in the Labour party. As we know, the Labour party has investigated itself and found itself innocent of this form of racism. That’s why it is normal to have Livingstone, who now declares himself a house–husband, smirking on telly all the goddamned time and compulsively mentioning Hitler at any opportunity.
Livingstone’s specific reading of history depends on a widely derided book and his absolute inability to see where his anti-Zionism is a veneer for antisemitism is evident. His peculiar obsession with proving his point is like the bewildered rambling of an old, embittered man. He is 71, so it is unlikely he would stand for office again. Is it not enough for him to look back on the glory days of the Greater London Council when, as its leader, he did achieve some notably good things for the left and for the capital?
Clearly not. He would rather bring the party down around him than apologise or give way, and with its non–decision the party aligns itself with him. It means there is a section of people in British society about whom you can be racist; indeed, you can spread what we might call “alternative facts” about them. This can be done in a context where Jewish children are going to school under protection, where antisemitism is rising all around us, where councils have to scrub off the swastikas that appear on doors.
Many decent Labour MPs and members are appalled that Livingstone has not been expelled. There are those who feel nausea at this attempted rewrite of Nazi history and deeply hurt by Livingstone’s refusal to apologise. There are those who have struggled to get parts of the left even to see antisemitism as racism. There are those who will have lost their Jewish constituents. It’s an unholy mess, with Labour polling abysmally as elections approach in May.
The party is weak. The party is immoral. These are the two messages that will come out of this even to those who are not much interested in the details of Soviet revisionist history or think much about Israel, beyond vaguely backing a two-state solution. The party is already limp, not only because of Corbyn’s serial and tragic incompetence, but because people such as Livingstone have been re-energised and become prominent again. Livingstone’s mindset is not his alone. There is a part of the left who, in pursuit of the rights of Palestinians, consort with those who would kill Jews. They feel themselves somehow above prejudice and racism because they are ideologically pure.
A similar mindset must allow Corbyn to elevate himself above the majority of Labour elected representatives. These are evidently not men of self sacrifice. Quite the opposite. Labour will end with a whimper, not a bang, as it appears increasingly to be a driverless car. The only hope is that it comes off the road – but the crash will still be awful. I cannot imagine Corbyn lasting beyond mid-May, but then I didn’t imagine him lasting more than a few months.
Livingstone cannot accept he is wrong. He thinks he is actually being persecuted. Corbyn is feeling similarly harassed
Corbyn is having to step in as so many people have told him the obvious truth: the way Livingstone is behaving is indefensible. Don’t kick it down the road for another investigation. The NEC has to act and be seen to act.
Watching all this is painful. To see the profound levels of denial at the top of the party, or hear Livingstone’s frankly deluded statements, is akin to witnessing a slow-motion collapse that everyone is powerless to stop. If there is anything to be found in the rubble, it is not the intransigence of this generation of left men who imagine their stubbornness a form of heroism.
Livingstone cannot accept he is wrong. He thinks he is actually being persecuted. Corbyn is feeling similarly harassed by the media who question him about his unpopularity. Is this not a legitimate question? If, at the core of Labour, was a moral crusade, where is it now? These dangerous old men have not hammered everyone into submission, however, and now Corbyn should make it clear his old friend is not an anti-racist although he may style himself as one. That it should come to this is shameful. There can be no permissible level of racism in the party. How hard is it for the leader of Labour to say so?