Ken Livingstone resigns from Labour Party

Unrepentant former Mayor of London quits Labour to end "distraction" of his case


Ken Livingstone has announced his resignation from the Labour Party - but without accepting he was guilty of antisemitism over his remarks about Hitler and Zionism.

The former Mayor of London, who has been suspended from the party since 2016, issued a statement on Monday claiming he was quitting because his case had become a "distraction" for Labour under the leadership Jeremy Corbyn.

John Mann, the Labour MP and long-time campaigner against antisemitism, said Mr Livingstone had "dodged the humiliation of being expelled." He added that the recent local election defeat in Barnet had been the clearest indication of just how alienated Jewish voters now were from the party.

Mr Mann said that Mr Livingstone "has still not withdrawn those offensive remarks he made when he rewrote history." The former London Mayor had repeatedly "rattled on about the 1932 Nazi Party manifesto that didn't exist. It was deeply offensive, calculatedly offensive and he still hasn't retracted it.

"He lied and made it up. That's why the Jewish community not only in this country but all over world has been so offended."

Luciana Berger, the Jewish Labour MP immediately tweeted: "Glad to hear it - should have happened 2 years ago."

She later told the JC: "Ken's repeated claims were a sick distortion of history.

"Hitler wanted to rid Europe of its Jews. Zionism was a Jewish movement to escape antisemtism and create a Jewish national home.

"Hitler never supported that. It's absurd that we had to even debate this and it shines a spotlight on the extensive damage that Mr Livingstone has done."

Her colleague Ruth Smeeth MP said Mr Livingstone's decision to resign was "welcome" but added that his "toxic views" should have resulted in his expulsion from the party "years ago".

Labour's governing body is due to meet at their central London headquarters tomorrow and were expected to begin a new disciplinary hearing into Mr Livingstone's repeated claims that Hitler was "supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."

Reacting to the news of the resignation of his one-time close ally, Mr Corbyn said it was the "right thing to do."

Sources close to the leader's office confirmed to the JC on Monday evening that Mr Livingstone's decision to quit the party had not taken Mr Corbyn by surprise.

Senior party insiders say a decision had been taken to put pressure on Mr Livingstone to stand down from "high up" over fears that his repeated media appearances while being suspended where proving to be vote losers amongst the wider electorate.

They added that his threat to mount a legal challenge to any new disciplinary case against him could have dragged the whole debate over his comments into a period when Labour could face a possible general election against Theresa May's Conservatives.

Mr Livingstone said in interviews on Monday evening that his lawyer had told him it could take "two to three years" to challenge any decision to expel him from the party in court which could "undermine" the chance of Mr Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.

He also told Sky News that Labour would have won the recent local council election in Barnet had he been allowed to campaign there: "We were much more likely to have won Barnet if all this hadn't gone on. One of the things I was feeling quite angry about is because of my suspension I couldn't go to Barnet and campaign for the Labour Party and talk to Jewish people and tell them the truth about what I'd said."

Mr Livingstone  also said he was "tipped off over the weekend that some of the old right wingers on Labour's National Executive were planning to raise this tomorrow."

He added: "I remember my lawyer telling me if I went to court I had a 99% chance of winning because I simply stated historical fact but in this world of fake news that was immediately distorted."

Last week, shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti called for Mr Livingstone's expulsion - signalling to some that the party leadership had now turned against him.
In his resignation statement Mr Livingstone again suggested that he had "made a historical argument" and added he "did not accept" the allegation that he was "in any way guilty of antisemitism".

He insisted that he "abhorred" antisemitism and was "truly sorry" that his historical arguments had "caused offence and upset in the Jewish community".
"I am loyal to the Labour Party and to Jeremy Corbyn," he insisted.

"However, any further disciplinary action against me may drag on for months or even years, distracting attention from Jeremy's policies.

"I am therefore, with great sadness, leaving the Labour Party.

"I also recognise that the way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that."

Mr Livingstone has always maintained that comments he made about the Nazi leader supporting a Jewish homeland when he first came to power in the early 1930 were historically accurate.

Speaking in April 2016, Mr Livingstone, who was defending MP Naz Shah over claims she had made anti-Semitic social media posts, said: "When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."

Mike Katz, the vice-chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, told the JC that Mr Livingstone had "deliberately sought to interfere with Labour's disciplinary process over the past two years.

"It is partly his fault that this whole thing has dragged on for a long as it had, but the truth is Ken should have been booted out of the party a very long time ago."

Adam Langleben of the JLM, a former West Hendon councillor, accused Mr Livingstone of "thirty years plus of misconduct towards the Jewish community.

He couldn't open his mouth about Jews without saying the most offensive thing in his head. And our party tolerated it."

Ilford North Labour MP Wes Streeting added: "We must now make it clear that he will never be welcome to return."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: "Let's hope this draws a line under this issue and Labour will continue to focus relentlessly on making sure there is no place in our party for anyone with anti-Semitic views."

In a statement, the JLM's Ivor Caplin said: "JLM is under no illusions. Livingstone was guilty of bringing the Labour Party into disreptute and was given a slap on the wrist.

"He should have been expelled then. This does not prove Labour is willing to take serious action against antisemtism in its ranks. 

"The oustanding disciplinary cases are only part of a continuing and increasing problem that requires action, not words."

But Chris Williamson, the pro-Corbyn MP, said Mr Livingstone "remains a towering figure of the Labour movement.

"He popularised progressive socialism and was labelled a 'Loony Lefty' nearly 40 years ago for his efforts to champion public services, stand up for marginalised groups and fight all forms of racism."

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