Livingstone’s spectacular implosion damages no one more than Khan

Election campaigns are one of the most disappointing parts of politics from an analysis point of view. Rarely do campaigns actually sway the result as much as people like to think. Clearly they are vital and manifestos etc. are essential. However, all too often the manifesto and the campaign itself are the out workings of the almost inevitable result.

As examples the disastrous longest suicide note in British political history of Labour’s 1983 campaign was merely the outworking of an election which was lost before it started. Equally the UUP’s disaster (complete with short snappy bullet to the head manifesto) of 2005 was pretty unsurprising.

There are exceptions: John Major did win the 1992 election whilst Thatcher would probably have lost it (as I have pointed out before, however, the orthodox view of politics is often very simplified – hindsight is far from 20/20).

Occasionally though something comes along which loses a candidate an election or so upsets the campaign that it makes a predictable win much more uncertain. This seems to be happening to Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral election. Khan was comfortably ahead of Zac Goldsmith who’s campaign had been rather lack lustre and indeed had created some of its own problems skirting rather close to racism. There were customised leaflets trying to exploit possible anti muslim feelings amongst other ethnic and religious minorities; and Goldsmith himself had used innuendo against Khan in interviews.

Whilst controversial none of these episodes was remotely as toxic as Ken Livingstone’s scarcely believable intervention to support Naz Shah. To put the folly of this comment into context Godwin’s Law is widely seen on internet debating fora (not always the place for considered debate) as demonstrating that bringing the Nazis into a discussion means that the one so doing has lost the argument.

Rather than using the Nazis and their views as a point of attack, however, Livingstone managed to end up with the concept that Hitler supported a Jewish homeland in Israel.

Even if there is some vague and tendentious mechanism by which a tiny grain of pseudo truth can be extracted form such a monstrous perversion of history, it is so small a grain as to be irrelevant (and indeed the idea and the book on which Livingstone based it has been rubbished by at least one serious academic). It is correct that the actual plan to achieve a systematic mass murder of all the Jews in Europe was only finalised in 1942. However, to suggest that Hitler supported Zionism until suddenly he “went mad” is unbelievable.

It is so unbelievable that many have suggested Livingstone’s motives must be simple anti-Semitism.

That motivation (anti-Semitism) may be correct but even if it were the timing is still bizarre. If Livingstone is an anti-Semite (and this is not the first time he has run into such problems) it still raises the question as to why he has said this now. This intervention has significantly derailed Sadiq Khan’s mayoral bid (something Khan has admitted – as well as condemning Livingstone in the strongest terms). Indeed Ben Bradshaw has suggested that Livingstone is a Tory plant.

Livingstone has been a member of the Labour Party for decades but he has also pursued his own agenda pretty mercilessly for just as long. Most remember that he first came to prominence as leader of the Greater London Council. Fewer remember that he orchestrated an internal Labour coup replacing the GLC Labour leader Andrew McIntosh within 24 hours of Labour winning the 1981 GLC election.

The GLC was of course the favourite bête noir of Margaret Thatcher and the Tory press (it was the original of the term “Loony Left” – though many of its “loony” policies are now mainstream). After the end of the GLC in 1986 Livingstone turned to Westminster but also developed a successful media career as a broadcaster and even a Sun columnist.

This gradual transformation into “political respectability” no doubt helped him win the first directly elected London Mayoral election in 2000. Again all too often forgotten (not least by the Labour Party) is that Livingstone did not win that election for Labour. He was an independent candidate who stood against Frank Dobson after Dobson defeated Livingstone for the Labour nomination in a process which was felt to have been designed by Blair and New Labour to stop Livingstone gaining the nomination.

Livingstone was back in the fold by 2004 but lost to Boris Johnston in both 2008 and 2012. At the time it was suggested by some that after decades in the public eye Livingstone was seen as tired and less relevant. He was given a new lease of life by Jeremy Corbyn’s election but his star has been on the wane for years now. In the mayoral race up to this point he has been hardly noticed. Sadiq Khan has not used him much and his views have not been heavily canvassed by the national media.

One always needs to be very careful interpreting the motives of other people especially in a negative light. This episode, however, seems to smack of a Livingstone keen to reassert his relevance in the media spotlight especially when the timing is relevant to the issue that made him a major figure – the London mayoral election. Furthermore the cynical might suggest that he could be less than delighted to have been sidelined during this campaign up to now.

Livingstone’s ridiculous (and deeply offensive) conspiracy theory about the Nazis and Zionism seems what it is – ridiculous. A less offensive and possibly less ridiculous conspiracy theory might be that Livingstone would be privately quite pleased to see Khan lose and hence, that he would be the only left wing candidate to have been London mayor. Indeed by that view of it Livingstone might have more similarities than he cares to imagine with Tony Blair who seemed less than heart broken when Brown and Milliband failed to win for Labour and left him as the only victorious Labour leader in a generation.

To claim, as Bradshaw has claimed, that Livingstone has deliberately sabotaged Khan’s campaign because he is a closet Tory is clearly ridiculous. To say that he did it because he wants to be the only one who won for Labour… well to quote Francis Urquhart:” you might very well think that: I could not possibly comment.”

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  • terence patrick hewett

    The proposition that Red Ken is an Anti-Semite is silly: he is simply an English non-nconformist and always has been. The 4 nations are going through a fundamental political re-alignment and this is but a wart upon the prognosis.

  • Chingford Man

    I rather doubt it will do Khan any serious damage. He is still very well placed to win. London is now a different country and has a substantial Muslim minority. Those who care about these things already knew of Khan’s links with Jew-hating Islamists.

  • Lee

    Wonder if the odds are shortening on Andy Burnham to be next Labour Leader.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The doughnut will do for Khan: or should it be the Beigel/Bagel.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Cameron will be free soon:)

  • Korhomme

    It is so unbelievable that many have suggested Livingstone’s motives must be simple anti-Semitism.

    I understand that a ‘Semite’ is an (original) inhabitant of the Levant, someone who might be a Jew or a Muslim or a Christian. What then is an anti-Semite? Someone who is against an individual Jew; or Jews in general, or the concept of a Jewish homeland, or the actions of the state of Israel? Or something else?

    And as for the state of Israel, didn’t the British Establishment have a plan to make one in Kenya? Or do we pretend we didn’t hear that?

  • Reader

    Korhomme: And as for the state of Israel, didn’t the British Establishment have a plan to make one in Kenya? Or do we pretend we didn’t hear that?
    More a refugee camp than a state; and ‘plan’ is probably too strong a word.

  • Reader

    Korhomme: What then is an anti-Semite?
    Likewise, what is a smokescreen?
    Literally, a smoke screen is a cloud of smoke put down, often on a battlefield, to obscure a line of sight.
    Figuratively, a smoke screen is like your nit-picking over the term anti-semitism. The term anti-semitism has been used since it was first conceived, to describe a hatred or suspicion of Jews. Your nit-picking over its literal etymology isn’t adding anything whatsoever to a real issue, so why do you feel compelled to do it?
    I have taken a scroll through some of your posting history – you don’t seem to be so literal minded or pedantic when other words come up in discussion. Why this one?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Careful now!

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I think Korhomme’s point is not one of pedantry about a term in common parlance but how easily a statement can attract accusations of bigotry simply because the terms antisemit/e/itic/ism have such an unspecific application. Strictly speaking ant-semitic could equally mean anti-palestinian. It is this loss of distinction that has exacerbated this storm as much as anything else.

  • ted hagan

    Whatever he is, it doesn’t excuse his importing of Hitler into an already embarrassing moment for Labour and the fact he has seriously dumped on his friends and his party. Since he doesn’t seem keen to explain himself; he should do the decent thing and exit the party. At once.

  • colmh

    I put a fiver on him on Thursday night after watching how he was received by the other panelists on Question Time (not least the Tory panelist). He was 14/1 with Paddypower then. Not sure what he is now.

  • Neil

    I suspect he thought he was jumping on a grenade for Naz Shah. By drawing attention to himself he was drawing it away from her. Maybe.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    Uganda, I think.

  • Graham Parsons

    1000/1

  • Graham Parsons

    You really don’t have a clue. Unless Labour election rules change Corbyn isn’t going anywhere.

    You comments are however interesting. Corbyn has done nothing wrong, in fact Shah’s comment were from before he was elected, yet somehow he’s getting the stick. The anti-Semite debate is clearly all part of an orchestrated campaign against Corbyn.

  • Graham Parsons

    Didn’t netanyahu say something similar recently. Livingstone is guilty of tactlessness not antisemitism.

  • colmh

    Actually I agree. If there was to be a leadership challenge the level of support for corbyn would probably increase. But 14/1 seemed too good to ignore.

  • Korhomme

    Pedantry: well, I think that some of the actions of the state of Israel are despicable (as are some of those of Hamas/Palestine). Does that make me an anti-Semite? Some people do seem to think that it is entirely inappropriate to criticise an action of the State of Israel, or to question in any way its legitimacy – or indeed that of Palestine. Would we apply the same strictures to states elsewhere?

    How would you define anti-Semite, and why?

  • Lee

    cheap at half the price

  • Lee

    I think Burnham is playing the long game, not setting self against the Corbynites but not being a big supporter of them either, he’s setting self up to be a uniting figure in the future

  • Graham Parsons

    Yes I think that is his plan but it is doomed to failure. The new membership will be looking for a more user friendly, media savvy version of Corbyn not a bridge between the left and the right in the party. My hope is that in his years as leader Corbyn nurtures his successor.

  • Teddybear

    Oh poor liberals. They are against the only free nation in the Middle East yet support an unfree demagogic Palestine and its props (Hamas etc)

    Israel is surrounded by countries who wish to see it destroyed. It’s easy to be a nice anti Israeli ‘liberal’ in the safety of the US or the western edges of Europe but Israel lives with existential threats every second of its existence.

    anti Semiticism is the only permissible racism that the Left allow themselves to indulge in. They see everything through the prism of colonialism and see colonialism where it doesn’t exist. Every non sovereign region is automatically regarded as ‘oppressed’ and every nation that defends its integrity and well being is seen as belligerent and evil.

  • Declan Doyle

    Unfortunately the British drew lines all over their empire forcing peoples of all disparate ethnic groups into states which had no natural being or uniform kinship. Hence the current malaise in the middle east and elsewhere.

  • Declan Doyle

    You’re not happy

  • puffen

    Playing a long game, the Blairites to give them a better name, will let this play out until after the local elections.and after Brexit please god the Methodist wing or what is left of it will regain control

  • Chingford Man

    Corbyn did something very wrong: he didn’t remove the whip from Shah at the first opportunity. He had to be pushed into doing so. Given the way he has been hanging out for 40 years with a out-and-out Jew haters in the Middle East, that is hardly surprising.

    I’m glad UKIP takes very quick action against anyone stepping out of line.

  • Graham Parsons

    Ha ha ha. Wait …you’re serious. I doubt Labour need to take lessons from a bunch of xenophobes and racists.

  • Chingford Man

    If you’re sufficiently blinkered to believe that, then the rest of us shouldn’t take lessons about anything from you.

  • It would be an enormous upset if Khan were to lose. He was already distancing himself from Corbyn, so not a problem to distance himself from Ken. In a City where so many are striving, Khan’s back story has a resonance in a way that Goldsmith does not.

  • Reader

    Korhomme – I support the existence of Israel and the two state solution, but I oppose Israeli west-bank settlements. That means that the BDS crowd will call me a Zionist (using ‘Zionist’ implicitly as a term of abuse), while at the same time some of Israel’s most sensitive and illogical partisans will call me anti-semitic. I’ll stand my ground on the issues.
    The terminology is already under attack by people who can’t separate the numerous issues from each other, so I really don’t think that the chances of communication, already poor, should be further undermined by people who want to undermine a perfectly usable term in the middle of a debate.
    As for the definition of the term “anti-semitism”, so far as I can see, every online definition and article in the first few pages of google provides much the same definition: “discrimination against or prejudice or hostility toward Jews.”
    That is the same definition based on both the history of the term and its usage.

  • “Rarely do campaigns actually sway the result as much as people like to think.” is not true. But the campaigns that matter are the ones on the ground, the door knocking, the surveys and the targeted letters based on surveys. It is that data-driven campaigning that won for Obama in 2012 and for the Conservatives in 80 target constituencies in 2015.

    What happens in the media is an irrelevant distraction to what really changes votes.

  • Korhomme

    The definition you give for “anti-semitism” is fair enough, but hardly fully inclusive. Criticism, as you indicate, of the West Bank activities usually gets included in the umbrella of anti-semitism. Whether it should or not is another question; it does suggest that for many, Jews and Israel cannot be – dare not be – criticised. Perhaps this relates to some sort of collective guilt in relation to the Holocaust; certainly, the same strictures don’t apply to any other major grouping or state in anything like the same way. And that’s why I’m labouring the point to the level of pedantry.

  • barnshee

    “Every non sovereign region is automatically regarded as ‘oppressed’ and every nation that defends its integrity and well being is seen as belligerent and evil.”
    Since when does invading areas stealing property and murdering the inhabitants who resist — defending “integrity”
    Israel via its actions created hamas.

    Should the arabs ever raise sufficient resources to invade Israel and occupy under the same conditions -that would be OK ?

  • Teddybear

    I have a preference for the Judeo-Christian world over others. Rather a democratic free Israel than a Palestine ruled by some idiot in a generals uniform ordering beheadings of rape victims and gay people.

  • Hugh Davison

    Reader,
    Which of Ken Livingstone’s comments are factually wrong?