Contrite Ken Livingstone says 'I got it wrong'

Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone

Labour's candidate for London mayor, Ken Livingstone, has admitted that he can now see why comments made to Labour activists earlier this month were interpreted as saying Jews would not vote for him because they are rich.

In a lengthy article for the JC, Mr Livingstone says he would like to make a new start with the Jewish community. He adopts a contrite tone, expressing his "regret" for failing to take up the offer by one rabbi of drawing a line under past controversies.

Mr Livingstone does not address his controversial embrace for the Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi nor the money he received from the Iranian state broadcaster Press TV .

In the article, he says he is determined to break out from the "drama of Ken and the Jewish community", after a meeting at the London Jewish Cultural Centre ended in bitter disappointment.

"When such controversies unfold it is easy to get dug in and appear to defend positions. I don't wish to do this."

Backtracking on the issue of voting patterns, he says that "Jewish voters are not one homogenous block" and quotes research from 2010 showing that Labour was the preferred party for Jewish voters.

He also pays tribute to the way the "Jewish people have shaped London", adding: "I could not cherish London and not value Jewish London".

The former mayor cites a list of initiatives he promoted on office, such as the publication of a Jewish London Guide, the marking of Holocaust Memorial Day, Simcha in the Square (since abolished by Boris Johnson) which were welcomed by the Jewish community. And he reminds readers that he opposed the academic boycott of Israel.

In a direct appeal to Jewish voters he emphasises that he has not accepted invitations to visit the dictatorships of the Middle East, but had visited Israel because it is a democracy.

Apologising to the strictly Orthodox Rabbi Avraham Pinter, a former Labour councillor, he says: "I regret that I did not give Rabbi Pinter the answer he needed... he is a man I like and respect in equal measure. I am sorry he did not hear from me what he wanted and needed to hear."

The extraordinary move by Mr Livingstone follows the revelation in last week's JC of a letter to Ed Miliband from a group of Labour activists present at the original meeting, saying that Jewish Labour supporters were finding it "harder and harder to consider voting for Ken".

The JC understands the letter sparked a series of frenzied exchanges between members of the London Jewish Forum and the Jewish Leadership Council on one side and the Labour leader's office and Mr Livingstone's campaign team on the other.

The Livingstone article was written on the eve of a key meeting between the Jewish leadership and Ed Miliband on Wednesday evening.

Last updated: 9:49am, March 29 2012