No regrets over our battle with Ken the dissimulator

May 05, 2016 12:26

When I went to the Evening Standard as assistant editor in March 2002, battle lines were already drawn.

The new editor, Veronica Wadley, had declined a lunch invitation with Ken Livingstone, the then mayor of London. She followed up with a note saying that the restaurant reviews he wrote for the paper would no longer be published.

Few grasped the moral foundations of her disengagement. V had (like me) lived in the rotten borough of Camden when Ken Livingstone, leader of the Labour group, told Tory councillors: "I don't know why you bother to turn up, we've decided everything already".

She remembered Ken's 1981 post-election coup to topple Labour's GLC leader and harness the council to hard-left causes.

Seeing the other side was never Ken's strong point. It was safer to be his enemy than his friend.

Frictions swiftly followed. In May 2002 Ken was accused of, and denied, assaulting one of our photographers at a mutual friend's birthday party.

In February 2005 he told our reporter, Oliver Finegold, that he was "like a concentration camp guard".

He went on to accuse the Standard's owners and staff of being potential Nazi collaborators. I wrote an op-ed that week declaring that Ken's "refusal to admit regret makes him unfit to hold public office".

I was wrong. Ken is incapable of regret. It's a personal disability, a missing receptor. He should have been on benefits.

Around this time, Ken bravely attended Friday night dinner at the Saatchi Synagogue in Maida Vale. Facing a hostile room, I felt he dissimulated like a Trotskyite at a golf-club bar, never retracting past words but bending them to allow a margin of doubt. It seemed to me I was witnessing a masterclass in political equivocation.

He was urgently cultivating Islamist groups as allies in a tough re-election campaign. Among his new best friends was an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood preacher, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whom Ken called "one of the leading progressive voices in the Muslim world". Mr Qaradawi, a theologian, favoured wife beating, genital mutilation and flogging homosexuals.

You can find him on YouTube saying that Hitler was Allah's hand for punishing the Jews and that he, Qaradawi, prayed for the day when he could "go to the land of jihad and shoot Allah's enemies, the Jews". Ken was pictured embracing Qaradawi, attacking the government for banning him from Britain.

In due course, V helped persuade David Cameron to run Boris Johnson for London mayor as the only Tory who could beat Ken. Say what you like of Boris, he did the necessary. Ken was cast into the political wilderness, earning his bread on Iranian and Russian propaganda channels. On a flight home from Shanghai, I found the great socialist lounging in business class and shunned him.

Ken's latest claim that it's not antisemitic "to hate the Jews in Israel" is the ugliest threat to Jews by any mainstream British politician in the modern era. Linking "hate" to "Jews" goes way beyond our old Ken. It might even be the real Ken.

May 05, 2016 12:26

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