I'll unite London, says Oona King

Representing diversity: Oona King

Representing diversity: Oona King

Oona King has urged Jewish Londoners to back her attempt to become Labour's mayoral candidate in the capital and deny Ken Livingstone a return to power.

Five years after she was acrimoniously ousted from her Bethnal Green and Bow parliamentary seat by George Galloway, Ms King said she was eager to move beyond sectarian divides.

Daughter of a Jewish mother and a black father, 42-year-old Ms King
said racism and antisemitism had "no place in our religious and ethnically diverse city".

She said she felt "very lucky to be Jewish and part of the Jewish community". Community members had pledged "fantastic support" since her selection to fight Mr Livingstone for the candidacy, but Ms King stopped short of revealing details of financial backers or leading Jewish Labour personalities promoting her campaign.

She said: "People understand that a capital city with a vibrant culture and diversity would benefit from a mayor who reflects that.

"The Jewish community has been on the receiving end of some quite unpleasant experiences related to the mayoralty, and they know that would not be an issue with me as mayor."

Following the vicious attacks Ms King faced during her unsuccessful 2005 campaign in the east London constituency - she suffered antisemitic abuse and was pelted with eggs - she is eager to ensure the mayoral race is run as cleanly as possible.

"My campaign is a positive one. I'd rather say what an Oona term would mean for Jewish Londoners, and let the Jewish community imagine what another Ken term would mean.

"If you can replicate some of the models the Jewish community is familiar with (school-building, social care) and add them to some imaginative forward thinking and new technology, then you can make London a very successful city for the future."

Ms King's comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have previously created rifts with the Jewish community. In 2003 she faced criticism from Holocaust survivors after returning from a trip to Gaza and likening the conditions to those in the Warsaw Ghetto.

She now says the situation in the Middle East must "change for everyone" and pledged she would work hard as mayor to promote joint projects between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as Jewish and Muslim groups in London, to work towards peace.

"There's no doubt that what happens in Israel affects Jews in London, and that's why I strongly believe in a just peace and settlement. I think the vast majority of the community supports that as well.

"I place great faith in Israelis, both individuals and groups. They are brilliant people, and it's amazing when people from any community can consider things from another point of view. If we can increase the numbers on both sides doing that, it would be a way forward."

As well as advising then-prime minister Gordon Brown on diversity issues during her five years out of the political front line, Ms King and her husband started a family, adopting two children with the help of Norwood.

She said it was an experience which reinforced her passion for the voluntary sector. "I know the Jewish community holds many of its voluntary organisations in the highest esteem and I certainly do, because I wouldn't have my family without them.

"It leads me to question why so many London children can be left without the homes, care and attention that they need. Organisations like Norwood should be able to spring up all over
the capital."

Labour's choice of mayoral candidate will be announced the day before the party's new leader is revealed, on September 25.

Last updated: 1:35pm, July 15 2010