It’s been over a month since Ken Livingstone found himself suspended from the Labour party over his claim that Hitler was a supporter of Zionism. Today the former Mayor of London was forced to face the music over his comments at the Home Affairs select committee on anti-Semitism.
Although Livingstone has experienced a fall from grace since the comments, he was in a cheerful mood at the hearing. When he wasn’t pitching for his own BBC history show on Nazi Germany — ‘I’d be delighted to do it’ — he was filling MPs in on all the ‘well-educated’ Jews who had stopped him in the street of late to offer their sympathies. ‘The number of Jews who have approached me on the street, saying “don’t the MPs read about history — I know what you said was true”,’ he declared. ‘Most Jews are well-educated, have done their history, know what I said was true.’
As for apologising for his claims? Livingstone did no such thing. Instead he said that despite promising anyone who could prove him false a slap-up dinner, he was yet to be taken up on his offer — therefore proving him right. Keith Vaz’s suggestion this may just be down to the fact no-one wants to have dinner with him was met with laughter all round.
However, it wasn’t all larks at the anti-Semitism inquiry. The most brutal interrogation came from Chuka Umunna. The Labour MP for Streatham grew frustrated as Livingstone repeatedly deflected from giving straight answers. In the end, he used his final question to launch a verbal attack on his former colleague:
‘I’ll just say this to Ken Livingstone. You were born in my constituency. You went to school in it, I and many other Labour colleagues of all backgrounds and faith, we campaigned not just once, but twice, for you to be mayor. I think you campaigned for me.
You did help reduce poverty and inequality, you did improve the housing situation in our capital city, but you’re not a historian, you’re a politician and by needlessly and repeatedly offending Jewish people in this way, you not only betray our Labour values but you betray your legacy as mayor.
All you’re now going to be remembered for is becoming a pin-up for the kind of prejudice that our party was built to fight against.’
Although Umunna was subsequently scolded by Vaz for offering a personal statement rather than a question, it was a shrewd move on his part. With Livingstone’s performance today just one in a seemingly never-ending series of car-crash media appearances for the ex-mayor, Umunna managed to put some clear water between his part of the party and Livingstone’s. If Labour’s Left hope to survive the scandal, they ought to take note and follow suit.