No Apologies – Ken Livingstone

I remember when I first experienced contempt for Tony Blair, whom I had hitherto regarded, I am ashamed to say, with something approaching optimism. It was the Hoddle business. You know: the priceless moment when poor Glenn Hoddle, his brains turned to mashed swede from heading footballs, announced that he believed in the migration of the soul; and that, furthermore, he believed that the disabled were paying for sins committed in a previous existence.

The disabled lobby (if not the disabled themselves) went wild. They called for Glenda’s instant removal. The furore went on for days, until suddenly, to my astonishment, Blair added his own voice to the calls for the dismissal of the England manager. And at that moment the scales fell. Blair, I thought, you are a fool. You are meant to be our Prime Minister. You have before you a man of limited intelligence and a mullet haircut, who has had the bravery to express his religious opinions – opinions shared, by the way, with about a billion Hindus – and instead of maintaining a statesmanlike silence you jump on this bandwagon. Shame on you, I thought then, and I think the same today, because here we go again.

We have in our newspapers a non-story, a media spat, about the insults that newt-fancier Ken Livingstone is alleged to have dished out, on leaving a party, to a reporter from the Evening Standard. The story is now in its third or fourth day; it is dying; and what does our Prime Minister do? He intervenes! Iraq is still a war zone, our hospitals are filthy, people live in fear of crime, and Blair finds time to demand an apology – on behalf of the Evening Standard – from Ken Livingstone.

Well, I do not normally side with Red Ken, but on this occasion I say, Ken, whatever you do, don’t apologise. Tell the papers to take a running jump, and tell Blair to join them. There are all sorts of reasons why this advice is sound, and I speak as one who has been caught up in the modern mania for apology.

The first is that any apology, as Ken has made clear, would be completely insincere; and the second is that it would be a surrender to media bullying. If you look at the offending transcript, it is clear that Ken was crass in his comments about camps and security guards; and it may be that elsewhere Ken has said things that border on anti-Semitism, but these words are not in themselves anti-Semitic.

We must keep that in the front of our minds, and ring-fence it with iron bars of logic. I can think of plenty of things for which I would like Newtzilla to apologise – the £900 annual cost of the congestion charge for families dropping their kids at school; his evil bendy frankfurter buses, which are a menace to cyclists; his cheerleading for anti-Semitic Muslim clerics such as al-Qaradawi, who supports suicide bombers and the beating of women; the fact that the escalator at Highbury Corner has been unmended for so many months, as if no one at Transport for London could afford a screwdriver from the astonishing sums we pay them in Tube fares.

Yes, there are all sorts of crimes for which Ken should grovel, but I think it would be an utter disaster if he came anywhere close to grovelling to the Evening Standard. We have a cult of victimhood in this country, in which the complainants are often not the victims themselves, but self-appointed priests of the cult of victimhood, who believe it is up to them to decide when offence has been given. And we have powerful newspapers that like to find some offence, and then screech their imprecations until the so-called offender has apologised.

If politicians had any sense, they would stand up to these tyrants. If we had a good prime minister, he would show a lead; so the question is, why does Blair surf the tide of outrage, and insist on an apology from Ken?

The answer is to do with a new and depressing eruption of communal politics, fomented entirely by the Labour Party. As a leading Jewish commentator put it to me yesterday, Blair’s intervention is pitched squarely at the Jewish vote, and it is aimed, above all, at reassuring important Jewish donors that Labour is on their side.

And why is that necessary? It would not be surprising if the Jewish community needed reassurance, after the frankly sulphurous way in which Labour has been trying to appeal to British Muslims. As Rod Liddle points out in a brilliant article in this week’s Spectator, there may be a method in Labour’s bizarre Fagin-style campaign posters, and energy minister Mike O’Brien’s article in Muslim News, in which he attacked Michael Howard, saying, “Ask yourself what Michael Howard can do for British Muslims”.

There are about 300,000 Jewish people in this country, and about 1.5 million Muslims. There are at least 13 extremely marginal parliamentary seats in which the Muslim vote could swing the result, and seven seats where the Muslim vote registers at more than 25 per cent of the electorate. You, as they say, do the maths.

There is also the worrying hostility to Labour among Muslims, in the wake of the Iraqi war. That is why, Rod suggests, there may be this gentle subliminal anti-Semitism in some of Labour’s propaganda; and even if he is wrong, you can see why some reasonable Jews, on reading O’Brien, might feel in need of some sign of support.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Blair is driven to the ludicrous expedient of weighing in on this unedifying dogfight between Red Ken and the Evening Standard. Who is behind this degraded politics? Well, it was Campbell the football fanatic who urged Blair to get involved in the Hoddle business, and Campbell behind the Fagin ads, and Campbell behind the new demands for apologies. Campbell is back, and so are the bad old days.

[posted by my able colleague, Olly, as am away in Slovenia]

48 thoughts on “No Apologies – Ken Livingstone”

  1. Livingstone had no grounds for complaint. The journalist asked him a very open question, and he could have answered it however he pleased. It was rudeness to answer how he did. Furthermore, anyone else, when told that the journalist was Jewish, would have felt bound to apologize for having giving greater offence than had been intended. It’s telling that he didn’t even then. But then he has a record as an anti-semite, so he was probably not dismayed by having given offence in that particular way, as any normal person would have been.

    I think this one is a win all round for Labour. The readiness of one of their senior politicians to give deliberate (as it was in the end) offence to Jews will have been noted by Radical Muslims. At the same time, Mr. Blair gets a chance to demonstrate his own probity by distancing himself from Livingstone.

  2. o0o0o0o0o0o! The article appears as if by magic!

    I must agree with Boris and Ken here. Although the comment made by RK last week was nothing short of ill-thought and idiotic, neither was it anything more. Without apologising directly, RK has made it perfectly clear that he regrets causing offence, but has indeed stood by his opinion – and good on him for doing so.

    An unwise subject to compare a journalist to – especially after the journalist in question told RK he is Jewish – but that’s all it was. A comparison in that the journalist in question was not, as RK must have seen it, an annoying git in himself, but only because he was paid to be.

    As for Labour’s loss of support, I’m not sure there’ll really be that much difference in the Muslim vote, or at least certainly not around here in Slough.

    And Campbell? I trust Boris means the return of Campbell to the public eye, for I doubt VERY much whether he actually ever went at all.

    On another note, I’ll be in the audience of Question Time later tonight, so everyone keep an eye out in case I get to ask a question! 😉

  3. Bugger me, I find myself supporting the views of a Tory.
    I have been appalled to listen to various hacks on the radio this week, trying to perpetuate the view that the national press is the last defender of democracy in our society. Complete bollocks.
    I feel little sympathy with those who put themselves in the public eye, and then whinge about the attention they draw (there is currently an army of journalists at the other side of the drawbridge at Scurra Castle, jotting down the details of my daily existence, and hoping to be the ones with first news of my political views), but fully support them when they tell the fourth estate to bugger off.
    Are you truly a one nation Conservative, Mr B? If so can we hope to see a Johnson-Livingstone axis forging a new direction in British politics? I think we should be told.
    I am sure, Melissa, that Olly is an able colleague, but the majority of us turn up here only to gain your attention. Your taking time off is a snub to your growing fan club of ancient perverts.
    Has anyone come up with a good anagram for Melissa Crawshay-Williams? I am damned if I can, even with the help of anagram software.

  4. I agree with ‘No Apologies’.

    The more political apologies that we hear, and the more they are encouraged by party leaders looking to some kind of political advantage, the more the general public just sees the whole thing as one big exercise in hypocrisy.

  5. Simon Holledge – as for the case of the disapearing and now reappering comments on wonders if Holmes and Watson should be on the case or Johnson and Liddle! Things have got a little strange around here?

  6. The thing that concerns me most about Blair is not Tony himself, but the people he has around him.

    Surely I cannot be the only one concerned that his most trusted advisors are Alistair Campbell and John Birt?

  7. Boris, have you paid any attention to the constant stream of crap that comes from this ultra-left wing so called Mayor of London?

    He supports and defends wife-bashing and gay killing shieks. RED KEN OUT OF OFFICE. This is the last straw.

    Yes, in itself, this is a storm in a teacup, but alas it is not.

  8. Boris’s dulcet tones were espousing the argument on Radio 4 this morning.

    There is definitely a “mea culpa culture” these days, where people are encouraged, as Blair put it to “apologise and move on”, with very little regard given to the idea that any apology should be sincere. These days they’re used as a delimiter, a way to stop a conversation, not as a way of showing absolution.

    Complaining about “powerful newspapers that like to find some offence” does ignore the fact that the conservative party also seems beholden to various media interests as well.

  9. Michael – Livingstone was crass, certainly. And if he had addressed those remarks to an ordinary Jewish citizen, he would be bound to apologise. But listen again to the transcript. The really offensive part is the transparent GLEE with which the journalist announces that he’s got the gaffe on record. This is not a story about racism. It’s about a newspaper trying to bring down a politician it doesn’t like. And screaming about anti-semitism and the Holocaust in the wake of an idle remark and a moment of anger utterly debases the memory of the Nazis’ actual victims.

  10. To me, Ken Livingstone seems like a typical specimen of professional left-wing bully and part-time thug. Need a barbecue smashed up? Get Ken on the job. The reporter seemed like a smart-ass so-and-so but not apologizing for calling a Jewish person a concentration camp guard is no sign of emotional maturity. Are London’s interests really served by someone who lacks any sense of finesse to this degree? Perhaps the Olympic Games could be staged as a re-enactment of the infamous Berlin ones of 1936 with Ken dressed up as Albert Speer and Prince Harry as Adolfus himself?

  11. Ken Livingstone was the best constituency MP I ever had.

    When I lived in Kilburn in 1990 we had some rather scary drug gangs taking over houses in the street and having noisy late night parties. The police didn’t want to know anything about it but Ken put pressure on them until something was done.

    Vicus Scurra: Slim Welsh CIA lass away . . irm . . . can you do better?

  12. I am beginning to have serious doubts about Boris. I am afraid to say that his views appear increasingly erratic for anyone of a conservative persuasion.

  13. Richard – perhaps the Olympic Games could indeed be staged as a re-enactment of the infamous Berlin ones of 1936. Ho ho ho. Very witty.

    I refer back to my earlier point. Six million jews died in the Nazi death camps, and now everybody’s coming over all shock horror outraged because some eager beaver journalist (his Jewishness is totally irrelevant) trapped a politician into saying something silly at the end of the evening.

    You’re all acting like children in a bloody playground, and our good friend Mr Johnson was quite right to make that point.

  14. ‘I am beginning to have serious doubts about Boris. I am afraid to say that his views appear increasingly erratic for anyone of a conservative persuasion’

    Esbonio – I think that you will find that most ideas are not just as clean cut as left or right or even conservative. After all this word with in it’s self can mean many differnt things depending from which direction the reader of that word comes from. A word is in the end nothing more then a starting point from which one can build a wider arguement and meaning.

  15. Nick

    I know what you mean and do not dispute that “most ideas are not just as clean cut as left or right” but do not think it is the point.
    I think Livingstone was wrong and should apologise. After all Boris thought it appropriate to go to Liverpool etc after causing offence.

    I have always found Boris an amusing and interesting commentator whether on TV, in the Speccie or in the Telegraph. That does not however mean he is always right, regardless of whether the issue is seen as a left/right dichotomy oe otherwise.

  16. I have always found Boris an amusing and interesting commentator whether on TV, in the Speccie or in the Telegraph. That does not however mean he is always right, regardless of whether the issue is seen as a left/right dichotomy oe otherwise

    Agreed. In this case I think Boris should have kept schtumpf. I find Boris amusing, but to defend Red Ken is a big no no. Ken has put a lot of backs up, Boris shouldnt jump in to take the bullet just because he knows what he feels like. Patently Boris is acting from his heart, but this is definitely not going to improve his public persona… In my opinion, not a move I would have typically expected from a Boris.

  17. I completely agree with Boris – there is no need for Tony Blair to intervene; his time would be better spent trying to run the country which is what we pay him to do. This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to appease a minority group not for their benefit but for the sole purpose of winning their vote.

    Whatever happened to free speech anyway? At least Livingstone gave an honest answer, which is more than can be expected from most politicians.

  18. A great comment by Nicholas Soames MP on Question Time tonight – “these reporters dish it out through their working lives, and it’s about time they learnt to take it back.”

    Well, something along those lines.

  19. (Quote)
    If politicians had any sense, they would stand up to these tyrants.
    (end quote)

    So what’s your excuse?

    On the specifics of the subject though, It’s true that no apology is better than an insincere one. Red Ken is an absolutely odious fella who by all rights should not have an iota of power to impose his bizarre views on people with. Unfortunately, he does. But Tony loves his bandwagons as we all know. Anyone see him come acropper on channel 5? I missed it but I heard it was good…

  20. God knows I’m no fan of Red Ken, but I think Boris has a point. Livingstone’s apparent basis for comment was that as the journalist had, in his opinion, no valid reason for being there and asking nosy questions apart from “just doing my job”, it was the thin end of the moral wedge that ends with people being concentration camp guards. Now, I think that’s way too big a stretch, but it does have a tiny bit of logic to it, and if Mr Finegold was offended by the idea that his behaviour was compared to a German war criminal, there is at least some small grounds for personal reflection on how he would like to be hounded by the press. I was particularly delighted when Piers Morgan became the focus of that sort of attention, because for once someone who had been so prepared to dish it out was on the receiving end. Perhaps that’s mean spirited, but I have no love for the tabloids.

  21. freestar – “to defend Red Ken is a big no no”

    What Boris was doing was to not to defend Ken’s words, but to defend his (or anyone else’s) right to stand by his opinions, even if others disagree. If Ken genuinely thinks he has nothing to apologise for, then why should he apologise? He may risk the wrath of others, but the alternative would be an insincere apology.

  22. I’m certainly no Ken fan, but I think Boris is so right in saying that this whole matter has been horrendously overblown. Ok it was a daft remark to have made, and it was insulting, but hey that was the point in making it. It’s the the sort of comment I could see myself making after a few jar’s too many at some idiot who had been harranguing me for the past few weeks. As for an insult to the memory of the holocaust, that is just daft, this has nothing to do with the holocaust, it’s entirely down to one angry man, having a minor barney with another man, if it hadn’t been a journalist, especially a journalist with that paper, I couldn’t imagine much furore made over it at all.
    Once more Boris presents perfect sense, I have to applaud you for it.

  23. A Tory agreeing with Red Ken? Well at least you call it like you see it Boris. Personally I agree, but anything that gets rid of Ken is probably for the greater good, whether it is right or not.

  24. At the rate were are going at the moment we will all end up having to apologie for being all to human. I will hate that day when it comes.

  25. Boris is spot on. This remark is tactless, but the witchhunt is an Associated Newspapers thing.

    FWIW I reckon he was right about Liverpool as well.

  26. Ken’s comparison of the reporter with a concentration camp guard was a succinct and brutal way of saying that the man was acting without conscience, without consideration of the results of his actions. Perhaps the choice of analogy was especially chosen to get under the skin of the Jewish reporter, but that doesn’t make it racist. If he’d called him a philistine would he have been asked to apologise? I doubt it, but the intention of accusing the reporter of behaving in a way that does not do justice to his beliefs/origins would have been the same.

    We must not forget that the Evening Standard are annoyed that Ken has allowed another newspaper apart from Metro to be given away free on the tubes. They clearly have a campaign against Livingstone and will use any ammunition they can lay their hands on.

  27. In the context of all too human apologies and being sorry, the ever thought-provoking Economist is on the case:

    It is a characteristic of charmers that when they suspect they may have caused offence, they calculate that a sufficiently charming apology should get them off the hook. But the trouble with charm is that it makes things worse if the people it is aimed at have seen through it. Which is why Tony Blair’s attempt last week to confront his own unpopularity by talking like a marriage-guidance counsellor about his relationship with the voters had most people reaching for the sick-bag Tony Blair is right to be worried about his unpopularity ;

  28. I think Boris is quite right. 100%.

    In fact Ken was attempting (rather badly) to make a serious point, but it was not put very well and it was an unfortunate example. None the less, are all people in this country who say “‘following orders’ or ‘doing your job’ is not an excuse, look at the Nazis” going to be accused of anti-semitism?

    Ken is guilty of many things, but in this case it is insensitivity. He is right not to offer woleful half-apologies in the Blair mode, but to hold his ground in this media-storm and then apologise in his own time for the (relatively minor, all things considering) mistake that he has made.

    The people who say that Boris is vacillating and not a proper conservative are being foolish:

    Firstly, this thing of attacking your opponent for any and everything they do without a sense of proportion and decency is a horrendous recent development in global politics and seems to be particularly worse over the Atlantic. Just have a look at all those US bloggers ranting and raving at each other without rhyme or reason and ask yourself if you want us all to decend to that level because if we just jump on someone everytime they do anything because they are in a different political camp then we are headed in a very nasty direction. All of us.

    Secondly, if we whip up excitement and hysteria over small things then we risk creating a climate where we ourselves become victims to this kind of thing, because the loudest and most uncrupulous politician (or journalist) will be successful.

    Well said Boris. Ken should be attacked for his real faults.

  29. Why is it that we’re all (mysrlf included) so touchy about anything that has a whiff of anti-Semitism about it, yet we can say bad stuff about Communists, Muslims and gays, even though they too were systematically murdered in the KZ camps? Has it got something to do with our own pet anti-semite, Molesley (I’m too idle to see if that’s the correct spelling), or is it because of the rather too cosy relationship between our American cousins and the military occupiers of Gaza? I think we should be told….

  30. Boris wrong for the first time ever. After Red Ken knew the guy was Jewish, he continued to make references to German camp guards, completely ill judged and possibly quite telling I think. Kens follow up comments only serve to confirm the worst accusations levelled at him. As for Tony Blair, well he can’t help but get involved, he is compelled to pass moral judgement on everthing that occurs here and wherever else he wuld like to have an influence.

  31. With respect Red Ken was voted into office and frankly I don’t know what all the fuss is about. He had a hissy fit (as opposed to a Hislop fit – one based on some intelligence) and it’s up to those who elected him to put pressure on the powers that be if they are so offended and want his resignation. I don’t live in London and couldn’t be less interested.

    I am amazed that this issue has gained so much attention. Column inches in the daily papers maybe but to attract the attention and time of so many top politicians that they make public statements about this! There really are more important things in life. Not that any of you lot will believe me, Boris. Of course my C.V. doesn’t come with the words “daughter of” at the top of it. Enjoy the election.

  32. One wonders how this topic will play after this little tid-bit of news:

    Mayor hits at Mail’s Nazi theme party

    Hugh Muir and Sam Jones
    Monday February 21, 2005
    The Guardian

    Ken Livingstone will today ratchet up his row with Associated Newspapers by highlighting published claims that staff there threw a fancy dress party in which they dressed up as Hitler and members of the Third Reich.

    After a week of criticism which followed his outburst likening a Jewish Evening Standard reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard, the mayor of London will seek answers from Associated about a party 13 years ago to mark the end of Sir David English’s period as editor of the Daily Mail.

    According to an acclaimed biography of the company, written with the assistance of some of its senior executives, the event had a Nazi theme. In the book, An Unlikely Hero: Vere Rothermere and How the Daily Mail was Saved, the biographer S J Taylor writes that when Lord English stepped down “he gave a party wherein he and all his editorial staff dressed up like Hitler and various members of the Third Reich. A memorable appearance of the newspaper’s drama critic Jack Tinker as Goebbels brought the house down”.

    The claim has been repeated several times by the satirical magazine Private Eye, most recently a fortnight ago, and has been seized upon by another of Associated’s enemies, the Daily Express. The two papers had a deal which obliged the Express to stay away from stories about Associated’s past support for Hitler, but following the Mail’s publication last Friday of mafia threats to the Express’s publisher, Richard Desmond, the agreement seems to have been set aside.

    Mr Livingstone and the Daily Mail, Associated’s flagship paper, have a long and bitter history. Though it has paid relatively little attention to him at City Hall, the paper was one of his main tormentors during the 1980s when he led the Greater London Council and was derided as “Red Ken”.

    A source from the mayor’s office said of the claims in the biography: “These allegations are very serious and pose immediate questions Associated must answer. The questions the mayor is likely to ask today include, does Associated deny this event took place? If it took place, which members of the present staff of Associated Newspapers were present and how were they dressed? What action did Associated Newspapers take against those involved in this event?”

    The mayor is keen to mend fences with the Jewish community. He is likely over the next 24 hours to express regret for what was said during his encounter outside City Hall a fortnight ago with the Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold. His officials have privately sought meetings with Holocaust survivors who have criticised him. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Commission for Racial Equality have both referred Mr Livingstone’s outburst to the local government watchdog, the Standards Board.

    But his comments now will fall well short of apologising to the Evening Standard.

    Associated Newspapers declined to comment last night

  33. The best comment I have seen on this episode is at Spiked-Online:

    The premise of the piece is that Livingstone has helped to create the atmosphere of which he has fallen foul: “But a climate in which one off-the-cuff insult can be considered grounds for censorship and censure, in which public figures jostle for position to see who can condemn the most loudly, and in which this kind of circus passes for public and political debate, is no good for any of us. Livingstone helped bring us to this situation, but it won’t only be him who pays the price”.

  34. If anybody is guilty of exhibiting Fascist tendencies in this country, it’s the New Left.

    Incidentally, even if the reporter wasn’t jewish, when did it become OK for the mayor of London to go around calling Conservative journalists ‘Nazis, bigots and reactionaries’?

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