Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Ken Livingstone’s resignation statement is that he finally managed to avoid saying the word that got him into so much trouble in the first place. The former mayor of London said that with ‘great sadness’ he was cutting up his party membership card because ‘the ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour Party have become a distraction from the key political issue of our time’.
Livingstone’s decision to renounce his membership brings to an end his suspension from the party of more than two years, which came about after he suggested in 2016 that Hitler was a zionist. But while the row is now, in a sense, concluded, this is an outcome that will please no one. Ken has been allowed to quit the party on his own terms. And while he did say sorry that his ‘historical argument’ had ‘caused offence’ there was little else in the way of contrition, with Livingstone refusing to even accept that he had brought his party into disrepute.
Instead, Livingstone made it clear that his decision to leave Labour is because he realised something much more important: that he has become a distraction to the bigger prize of getting Jeremy Corbyn to Downing Street.
Livingstone went on to say that he had realised that the investigation into his comments could ‘drag on for months or even years, distracting attention from Jeremy’s policies’. Of course, this says little for the Labour party’s ability to deal quickly with complaints like this in the future. So the conclusion of this sorry row will do nothing to reassure those who have demanded swifter action against Livingstone. And it seems to suggest that a repeat of this debacle within the Labour Party is a real possibility. But if there is a silver lining in this then it’s for Jeremy Corbyn’s office, who avoid having to make a difficult decision about what to do about Ken Livingstone.