London needs the politics of unity – not division

24th March, 2012 5:56 pm

It started with the best of intentions. Ken Livingstone would meet Jewish Labour supporters, rediscover some common ground and build some bridges ahead of the mayoral election. And let there be no mistake – those bridges need to be built.

Yet instead of being built, they appear to have been burned.

The letter which was leaked earlier this week suggests that many of those who attended the meeting left with as many (or more) concerns than they entered it with. One of the signatories – Adam Langleben – has written today saying that he’ll still vote for Ken, but he won’t urge others to. Jonathan Freedland – who some pointed to in defence of Livingstone after the letter leaked – has written a damning article for the Guardian today explaining why he can no longer support Ken for mayor. This seems to be the fault line for Jewish party members – those who will grudgingly vote for Ken, and those who can’t.

Ken is clearly a divisive figure for the Jewish community. And through that he has alienated many otherwise staunch Labour supporters and members, including those who went out of their way to meet with him, engage with him and work with him – like Adam and Jonathan. It’s one reason why he isn’t carrying enough Labour supporters with him.

It was not always this way. When Ken has been at his best, it is when he is seen as the mayor for all Londoners. One remarkable week reminds us of that, when after the triumphant Olympic announcement, the 7/7 bombers brought death and destruction to the capital. Ken said that this was an attack on all Londoners. He was right, and London stood united under his leadership.

I think of his speech at the London United event one week after the bombings today. I think about how good Ken was, how right for the role of mayor. How the politics of unity trumped the politics of division. And I wonder where that Ken Livinsgtone is when London needs him.

You can win elections with the politics of divide and rule. You can ignore some communities, some areas, some demographics. You can win elections that way. But you cannot lead a city. You cannot command its respect. Unless you are willing and able to bring it together. 7 years ago, London was united under Ken Livingstone.

Now it feels divided, and I fear that Ken does not realise that he is aiding some of those divisions himself.

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  • GuyM

    Do you honestly believe Ken Livingstone ever represented the interests of voters in outer London boroughs?

    “London” is two cities, the inner areas, diverse though they are between places like Tower Hamlets and Kensington, and the outer suburbs, some of which really are so “outer” that they are home counties coutryside more than the view the world has of “London”.

    There really is no reason for some of the current political designated areas of London to share the same Major as the inner city bits. They don’t share the same concerns, interests, or needs and it results in a annoyed section of the population whoever wins.

    • Boris Johnson ran on the promise of helping London’s outer boroughs and he never delivered.

      Ken’s policies at least will make it cheaper for the boroughs.

      • GuyM

        Compare Ken’s tax increases with Boris’ and then see how it’s cheaper for us all with Boris.

        • derek

          Boris has just gained a 17,000 tax cut? given his salary is around 400,000 a year

          • J H Holloway


            Ken didn’t wait for the 45p rate, he invented his own 20p rate.

          • derek

            So it’s a joint problem, so Ken should initiate the call to stop Mayors having a second job.

          • Hugh

             Because he didn’t realise it was a problem when he had three?

          • derek


          • Bill Lockhart

            Yeah, he was taking money from the Iranian government for presenting on one of their propaganda TV channels. Did you not hear about that?

          • derek

            I heard about that. Do MP’s take money when they appear on TV programmes like “question time? or sky news? or bargain hunt? ooops that could be a clanger. 

          • Hugh

             Actually, I had in mind the fact he was a columnist for the Independent (so exactly what he’s criticising Boris for) and an MP while also Mayor.

          • derek

            @Hugh, Boris does the same thing?  

          • Hugh

            Well, no actually since he wasn’t an MP. More importantly, Boris didn’t criticise Ken for it. That means only one of them is a proven hypocrite.

  • Mark, you’re quite right (if a little too kind). But this particular elephant has been sitting patiently in the room since at least last June, when Nick Cohen warned that it would be a problem:

    Why have neither Ken nor Ed done anything in the intervening nine months to resolve the situation? Ken has not because he refuses to admit there’s a problem, and Ed has not because he, er, refuses to admit there’s a problem.

    • Dave Hollins

      You’re a former senior official of the Labour Party Rob.  No doubt if anyone was disloyal to Tony Blair you would have been outraged.  You’re exploiting this to take a cheap shot at Ken because you are a right wing Blairite.  To quote the barking Nick Cohen is about the least convincing argument you could use.  Ken was mayor for all Londoners, including Jews and Muslims, and will be again.  He is entitled to his opinion about the Israeli state without being accused of anti-semitism.  Most of us agree wholeheartedly with him. 

      • Er, no – but thanks for the cheap ad hominem, anyway. 

        The extraordinary thing is that whenever the Jewish community gets uncomfortable, there are people like your good self who start talking about Israel and Palestine, as if the world revolved around that conflict. This is nothing to do with it, and everything to do with alienating an entire community. 

        How you think a hopeful Mayor of London can afford to do that in the first place, let alone defend him for doing it, is beyond me.

        • derek

          A bit extraordinary if you think a Mayor should only represent one community? we know the tories only represent a certain few but shouldn’t politics be representative for all? 

          • Derek, I’m not quite sure what you mean. Who said anything about only representing one community? You’re looking for a difference of opinion where none exists.

          • derek

            Fine, so you’ll be voting Ken, I like that.

        • AlanGiles

          I want to keep out of this discussion in general, since I am neither Jewish or a great supporter of the Mayorality, which to me is an expensive indulgence of personality politics of the worst sort. Expensive purpose built buildings, extra layers of management etc etc, but they say the on-looker sees  most of the game, and I cannot help feeling there are certain Labour figures (Mr Marchant is just one example) who want to see Livingstone lose. That is the impression I get, and I wonder why this might be: plainly if Livingstone does lose in May it will be demoralising for the party and might even damage the present leadership. Is that what they want?.

          I just throw this in to the discussion for what it is worth – which is probably not a lot.

  • Mikey Franklin

    Mark – You’re wrong about Jewish Londoners. I’m an active member of a synagogue and several Jewish communal groups, and I’m campaigning for Ken.

    Too many of my community are so wrapped up in right-wing smears and Ken’s occasional missteps that they fail to recognise a great Mayor when they see one- one with an outstanding track record of standing up for Jewish Londoners.

    No-one writes it, but it was Ken who cleared away red tape to ensure that the North London Eruv (google it) could get built, and Ken who created Simcha on the Square, a celebration of Jewish music and culture in Trafalgar Square.

    All Londoners, especially my fellow Jewish Londoners, should separate fact from fiction and campaign for Ken.

    I’m pleased that Adam Langleben has taken the step forward of agreeing to vote for Ken, having said last year when working for Oona that he’d rather ‘vote Lib Dem than Ken.’

    • Stu

      I just had to laugh, what right wing smears are these? Some of you lefties really do live in la la land. Livingstone takes money from Iranian state TV a state that calls for the total obliteration of Israel. Livingstone calls people who use companies to avoid paying the full rate of income tax bastards who should neither be allowed to vote or stand for office. Yet he uses one himself. You are either so blindly tribal, thick or both that you can turn a blind eye to this hypocrite. Oh sorry I just made all this right wing smearing up.

      Unfortunately though it’s widely documented so get your facts right.

    • Dominic82

      Sorry, Mikey. But you’re kosher-washing.

      Occasional mis-steps? “Occasional”? Really?

      Right-wing smears? The left (the real left) has been most uneasy with Livingstone.

      Tinkering with the planning process? Big deal. A bit of kletzma music around Nelson’s Column. Oooh, thank you soooo much.

      Patronising nonsense.

  • Mutafe


  • And lo, Guido Fawkes did link to this article and the Tories did flock to mock it, rejoycing. 

  • And lo, Guido Fawkes did link to this article and the Tories did flock to mock it, rejoycing. 

    • therealguyfaux

      And this is a bad thing WHY, exactly? 

      PS  “rejoycing[sic]”?  Is Eric Joyce  a Tory?  First I’ve heard of it– or has his name become an eponym for giving your opponents a figurative headbutt whilst giddy with the drink of schadenfreude?  My goodness , sir, you’ve come up with a new verb for our lexicon!

      •  This is so poorly written I’m beginning to think it really is Guido Fawkes.

        • J H Holloway

          Grammar or Private, Keith?

        • therealguyfaux

          Paul Staines couldn’t be arsed to reply to you, most likely.  And if you’re going to call someone on “poor writing,” at least heed your spell-checker, and in your “Mock”-KJV, write “rejoice” with an “I”.

  • JH Holloway

    Livingstone’s speech? Try re-reading it

    ‘This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.’

    Not a terrorist attack against the mighty and powerful…It was not aimed at Presidents and Prime Ministers….irrespective of any considerations…

    Basically Lenin qualified his condemnation of mass murder. Tell me that the above does not read as if attacks against what are regarded as the mighty and powerful can be understood?

    Of course, this ties in with the National Socialist terrorists who made up the IRA. They attacked the army, shoppers at Harrods, the Conservative government…..

  • Great piece, Mark!  Where is that Ken?  We have not seen him since he lost in 2008.  He needs to unite inner and outer London.  He needs to convince both Muslims, Jews and other groups that he wants to be their Mayor.  He needs to be ALL people’s Mayor not just the mayor for parts of London.  He needs to rise above Pork Barrel politics.  He needs to start listening and thinking and engaging and rise above the sectarian.   Most of his transport, urban, regen, london promotional policies are brilliant. … I dont think Ken is anti-semitic, I do think he does not understand the Jewish community, Judaism and the issues we face… and does not care.  I also think his rejection of working for the progressive vote in general to be a huge problem in getting Labour elected. Boris is lazy does not engage and is using the position.  Ken has to accept your challenge and quickly. Oh and BTW I signed the letter following the meeting between Ken & Jewish Labour supporters.

    • GuyM

      Unite inner and outer london?

      You mean get all those heavy voting Tory areas to back him? Good luck with that.

    • Dave Hollins

      If you haven’t seen Ken since 2008 you must have had your eyes closed.  Most of his policies benefit outer London like fares.  And you may not have noticed but outer London is the new inner London because inner London has been taken over by the rich. 
      I can’t see how you can say that you don’t think Ken is anti-semitic and sign that letter.  I can’t see how you can say things about ‘uniting’ people and sign that letter.  It’s simply disgraceful behaviour by people with a specific axe to grind.  

      • Adam Langleben

         There is no axe to grind. This is not some plot. Mark knows me from campaigning in Barnet & Camden – I have been out almost every weekend canvassing for Ken Livingstone and Andrew Dismore. He is the Labour candidate and we have to get on with it, if we feel able to. Some colleagues now feel that they cannot settle this with their conscience.

        Also – this is not about Israel or Zionism, Kens views on that have been clear for many years. And it is a waste of anyones time to speak to him about it. Rabbi Danny Rich, who also signed the letter alongside myself and Andrew Gilbert is one of the most outspoken advocates in the Jewish community for the Palestinian cause. Many in the Jewish community feel that he shares similar views to Ken on Israel. When someone like Danny Rich, who is pretty much the most politically left leaning Rabbi comes out and states something is wrong, you cannot write it off as a community with a grudge.

        The same goes for Jonathan Freedland.

        Maybe it is one of those situations where you had to be there to believe it, but Ken has a Jewish problem, this may not mean that he is antisemetic, but he certainly should know better than to say some or these things he said.

  • Don Jolly


    • Mr Chippy

      Surely the Conservatives act on class prejudice? Multi-billionaire Warren Buffet once said there is a class war andwe are winning.

  • Alan

    Ken has always been a joke. Why Ed Miliband let him be the standard berer for Labour is beyond me. When Ken loses, Ed should stand down (or be stood down) as Leader!

    • Ollie

      Alan, you’re assuming Miliband is a credible leader himself – which he clearly isn’t. In fact, he’s Ken Livingstone with a lisp, is he not?

      • treborc

        No he is not, his lisp as you state has sod all to do with it, you can hammer Miliband  for being poor, not good enough, not politically bright enough, but a lisp. God help us.

        • Sungei Patani

          Milband poor?  The leader of the opposition receives £139,355 which together with his earnings from newspaper articles will mean he has benefited from the reduction in the top rate of income tax. I didn’t see him put his hand up when he was asking the Tory front bench if they had benefited.

          • Winston_from_the_Ministry

            I don’t think he means in the financial sense.

  • Daniel Speight

    I suspect it didn’t matter what Livingstone said at that meeting with London Labour Jewish  members. There were some there that already had their script written. Will they do the same thing to Ed Miliband in 2015?

    • Sarah AB

       Maybe – but surely there were others who were actively seeking and hoping for reassurance, and would have set their bar for being reassured quite low?

      • Daniel Speight

         I guess it depends on what sort of reassurance they were after. If the only way he had of giving it was to offer whole-hearted support for Israel like the American politicians have to do, then maybe it’s better for Livingstone to stick to his guns.

        In fact if Livingstone was more of an American city hall type politician he could have done that and then gone and said the opposite in Aldgate to the Bangladeshis. Would you prefer that?

        Still again I will pose the question. Will they do the same thing to Ed Miliband in 2015? What about you Rob Marchant?

        • Sarah AB

           There is quite a bit of middle ground between enthusiastic support for Israel (if by that you mean Israel’s present government), which I’m sure someone like Freedland wouldn’t require, or indeed welcome, and Livingstone’s own take on that issue. 

          • Daniel Speight

             The middle ground would include a two-state solution wouldn’t it? Has Livingstone called for the destruction of the State of Israel? That’s a genuine question as I wasn’t there and I don’t know the answer.

          • Adam Langleben

            I have no idea what you mean by ‘they’. I campaigned for Ed Miliband to be leader and i wholeheartedly support his leadership of the Labour Party. I also signed that letter.

            Trying to smear the signatories or these Jewish members of the Party is not useful. The substantative issue needs to be addressed is that Ken clearly has a Jewish community problem – whats he going to do about it?

  • Dave Hollins

    How can you write such a divisive piece under such a headline?  Despite Iraq I still went out and campaigned for Labour in 2005.  I suspect the people who wrote this letter wouldn’t vote for Ken at any time.  He’s clearly not anti-semitic, look at his record and his writings, but these people won’t stand any criticism of Israel or modern Zionism as practiced by the Israeli state.  Ken’s view of Israel/Palestine is much closer to most Labour members’ opinion and has widespread support.  Israel has a right to exist, I support the 2 state solution, but the Israeli Government is a disgrace and led by warmongers and is propped up by apologists around the world.  I think I should have the right to say that without being accused of anti-semitism.  And what ethics have these people got to leak a letter like this?  Others at the meeting that I’ve talked to are absolutely furious to be misrepresented like this, believe the meeting was hijacked and the whole thing was a set-up – the letter could have been written before the meeting ever took place.  Well done Ed Miliband for a sensible response showing real leadership.  Is he anti-semitic for defending Ken?  

    • Bill Lockhart

      No, just very weak. Under Labour’s *own rules* Livingstone should have been expelled from the party as soon as he publically campaigned for the Islamist Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets against the Labour candidate – but instead of acting,  Labour’s suits sat on the fence and waited to see which weay the wind would blow, as they always do.
       Every Muslim vote Livingstone buys with his cynical appeasement probably loses Labour another three somewhere else.

  • Dominic82

    So loyal and long standing Labour members seek a constructive meeting with a key Party figure. It doesn’t go well. It creates more questions than it provides answers. On complicated but genuine issues of concern.

    And the response from Israel-obsessives like Daniel Speight and Dave Hollins is to portray them as some sort of extremist lobby; some sort of nefarious force within.

    And we wonder why so many ordinary Londoners AND ordinary Party members are so uncomfortable with Livingstone and his apologists. 

    • Daniel Speight

      And so Dominic, some members not happy with the guy democratically picked by London Labour to be the mayoral candidate, then campaign against him.

      Now when Livingstone did something similar to poor old Frank Dobson, Livingstone was expelled.

      As for being an Israel-obsessive, convince me that I’m wrong in thinking that is the real problem some have with him. Convince me they are throwing their dummys out of the pram just because they feel slighted by Livingstone’s attitude or manner towards them.

      Also just  to make it clear before I get smeared with the antisemitic tag, I support the State of Israel’s right to exist, although I have very little time for the right-wing Israeli politicians who are running it right now. Most of all I take exception to British politicians and Labour in particular falling into the trap those in the US have, which is having a religious lobby with control over foreign policy. I wouldn’t want Muslims to do it and I wouldn’t want Christians doing it either, so I’m not going to give a pro-Israel Jewish lobby a free pass.

      Oh and as for the charge of being a Livingstone apologist, I would dispute this. It’s very easy to see weaknesses in Livingstone and the recent tax avoidance is one of many. Cuddling up to extremist Muslim preachers is anything but pleasant and I’m not sure if it’s really needed vote-wise either, but having said that I suspect most agree he is a good city administrator, and compared to the other candidate to be Labour’s choice it really was a no-contest.

      Compared with Boris we have someone that cares about London up against a clown who is more interested in challenging for the leadership of the Tories than London.

      • Adam Langleben

        Let me be clear. Israel was hardly mentioned in the meeting. Ken stated his desire for a two state solution, even though it would not be his preferred choice, but realises that it is the only option. That was about it on Israel.

        The discussion focused entirely on his attitude towards our community.

        He was talking to a group of people, many of whom agree with him on some of the policies of the Israeli Government and also dislike this current Right wing israeli government.

        • Daniel Speight

           So Adam, the leaked letter, the Freedland article, it all hasn’t nothing to do with Livingstone’s position on Israel? The very public campaign against him, and the obvious help that it is giving to the Tories and Boris in particular is because?

          He spoke harshly to an Evening Standard reporter who was door-stepping him?

          He said that rich Jews wouldn’t vote  for him anyway?

          His attitude to the London Jewish community has been negative?

          When he shows up to a meeting with them he isn’t contrite enough?

          For this they are going to help Boris.

          Where has the Mikardo generation of London Labour Jewish politicians gone? Did they leave nothing behind?

          A short history lesson for anyone who wants it. Ian Mikardo was a Zionist and a good Labour MP. He managed to live with the party even when Ernie Bevin was being convinced by the Arabist in the Foreign Office that Israel was not the answer to Palestine.

          • Dominic82


            Where have any of those expressing concern about Livingstone said that they were going to help Boris?

            A disgraceful slur on loyal, long-standing Party members.

          • Daniel Speight

             So Dominic did the letter (one) help Boris, (two) did it help Livingstone or (three) was it absolutely neutral. Then let’s ask the same questions about Freedland’s article.

            I really don’t think you can hang onto this pretense that it was a just a group of London Labour members having a gripe about the Livingstone’s attitude.

            What has been done was done to cause hurt to Labour  campaign for mayor. It probably hasn’t done as much harm as Livingstone has done to himself, but if  he loses by a very small margin it could be what gives that clown Boris a second term.

            Those who have a long-held grudge had a chance to campaign against Livingstone during the selection process. Certainly Oona has been less willing to take sides on middle-east issues. Having lost that fight, to now try and sabotage the Labour campaign smells very bad. It seems very similar to those Blairites who are constantly attacking Ed Miliband because they backed the other brother.

          • Sungei Patani

            Ian Mikardo was an apologist for the Soviet Union except where there were conflicts with his Zionist views and membership of the 
            Zionist Workers’ Movement

          • AlanGiles

            Mr Mikardo has been dead for about 20 years I think, as I recall his parents were Jewish refugees, one coming from the Ukraine, so perhaps it is understandable that he held the views that he did.

            But with respect it has little to do with the 2012 London Mayoral election.

      • Dominic82

        Daniel Speight,

        If you understood anything about Western democratic politics, or anything about the geo-politics of the Middle East, you would understand that the US isn’t Israel-sympathetic because it has a successful Israel-sympathetic lobby – it has a successful Israel-sympathetic lobby because it is Israel-sympathetic in the first place.

        You confuse cause and effect. So you then confuse motive. So you then make accusations of “politicians falling into a trap” set by groups which you claim are overly powerful (when in fact they’re just asking for a fair hearing).

        Typically, you raise the straw man of being accused of anti-semitism when no one has done anything of the sort. A common tactic amongst Israel-obsessives (as attendees have confirmed, Israel was hardly mentioned but you’ve raised it several times now as the supposed main point of the meeting). Yet you’re never able to give an example of anyone serious describing genuine criticism of Israel as anti-semitic.

        There are approximately 270,000 Jews in Britain with approximately 270,001 opinions on Israel between them – yet you have those attending the meeting with Livingstone as having a monolithic and blind approach to the issue that they can’t bear to have contradicted by the Mayoral candidate. This is your pre-judgement with no basis in the facts of the meeting or of stances taken within the Jewish community.

        It would be an odd use of anyone’s time to try and persuade Ken to change his views on Israel, wouldn’t it? And if the “Pro-Israel Jewish” lobby was as powerful as you suggest, then there wouldn’t be any need to. Your raising of the “Pro-Israel Jewish lobby” bogey man is utterly illogical.

        An illogicality trumped only by your playing of the loyalty card after what Livingstone did in Tower Hamlets. If Livingstone is not Mayor again on 4 May then there will only be one person to blame: Livingstone.

        • Daniel Speight

           If you understood anything about Western democratic politics, or
          anything about the geo-politics of the Middle East, you would understand
          that the US isn’t Israel-sympathetic because it has a successful
          Israel-sympathetic lobby – it has a successful Israel-sympathetic lobby
          because it is Israel-sympathetic in the first place.

          Almost the whole world was Israel-sympathetic at one time Dominic. That Israeli politicians have managed to make that not so is to their shame. You know full well that Obama’s power to influence Israel’s actions in an election year are very  limited. Netanyahu swaggers with the lobby’s power and the media openly talk about it. Why is it for all the finance the US pours in they cannot stall the settlement building. Let’s try and keep the argument honest at least.

          • Dominic82

            “Almost the whole world was Israel-sympathetic at one time Dominic. That Israeli politicians have managed to make that not so is to their shame”.

            Perhaps so – but no more or less than other nations’ political classes have undermined their States’ reputations. The fact that you single out Israel reflects the obsessiveness which you continue to confirm. 

            On Netanyahu, his swagger is meaningless in a US election context. Maybe it shores up a core vote at home but it probably leaves most Israelis, and most Israeli-sympathetic people everywhere, cringing. Furthermore, in any other context, the Israel-obsessives wet themselves with joy when a leaders of smaller nations stand up to the USA.
            The West Bank settlements – which I would happily clear myself tomorrow if I could – don’t even enjoy full support within Israel. But while there remains a strategic argument for them in the current security context, zealots will exploit the nonsense religious ‘justification’ to keep them. Again, it’s what’s happening in the region that matters, not in Western capitals (I know the narcissistic Left can’t bear to countenance such a thought).

            The tiny US Jewish community votes nearly monolithically Democrat, whatever the prevailing winds on Middle East policy (unlike Israel-obsessives here, few in the States vote solely based on their views about the Middle East).

            Where popular support for Israel in the wider population may or may not be relevant in an electoral context (you want honesty, so where are the polls showing that it is, Daniel?) there are many reasons for it, going back to the Founding Fathers, passing through Christian Zionism and into the profoundly badly-named and tragically-executed “War on Terror”.

            But, for example, have the Israel-obsessed ever even considered a campaign aimed at raising the Palestinian plight with Christian Zionist churches in the US, using the experiences of Christian Palestinians? Of course you haven’t. You’re too busy being Jew-wise about who has, and has not, apparently got power. 

  • Liberanos

    Ken likes to see himself as the President For Life of London’s third world. Hugging vicious muslim bigots, offending Jews, patronising the poor, manipulating his tax payments, I think he rather fits the bill.

  • Pingback: Ken Livingstone: is this the cruellest blow yet? – Telegraph Blogs()

  • Ken is the most disgustingly divisive and communalist minded politician in the UK. His ‘brave’ response condemning the London bus and tube bombings, whilst simultaneously supporting Tamil Tiger bus bombers in Sri Lanka is proof of his foulness. In Ken’s mind some bus bombings are more justified than others.

  • Pingback: Ken Livingstone dissed by yet another Labour heavyweight – Telegraph Blogs()


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