Those who remember former London Mayor Ken Livingstone from way back know one thing that has dogged his career, and his reputation, and that is his inability to say sorry. Every time that Ken said something off the cuff which he would have been best off not saying, there were either excuses, or it was not really as bad as was claimed. Now that inability is part of the reason he should not remain in the Labour Party any longer.
The other part of Livingstone’s less than fortunate behaviour is to offend Jewish people, seemingly without thinking first, and inevitably without bothering to apologise afterwards. He did it with Oliver Finegold, who at the time was a reporter for the Evening Standard, “asking if he was ‘a German war criminal’ … On learning that Mr Finegold is Jewish, the mayor apparently said: ‘You are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?’” No apology was made.
Even so, there were many, including me, who considered Livingstone worth supporting against the Tories’ opportunist candidate Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, both in 2008 and 2012, given Bozza’s past featured episodes of blatant racism, and that Johnson had edited the Spectator magazine while giving a berth to notorious anti-Semite Taki Theodoracopulos (current editor Fraser Nelson stands guilty of maintaining that berth).
There was also the suspicion that Bozza was a shallow candidate who would put his own glory well before benefits to Londoners, and so it proved: vanity projects, developers waved through, appalling air quality, flagrant dishonesty, and at the end of it all he waltzed off the moment the opportunity to return to Parliament presented itself.
That, though, does not excuse Ken’s tendency to offend any and every Jewish group in the capital, and indeed the country. During the 2012 Mayoral campaign, he was forced to make “a rare public display of contrition, following a backlash over leaked remarks made by him in a private meeting which were interpreted as saying that Jewish voters would not vote for him because they were rich”. Sailing very close to the wind once more.
But what left Livingstone with no way back was his blundering into a row over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and starting to bang on about Hitler. That much was idiotic in the extreme, but to then claim the Führer had supported Zionism, given what actually happened during the tenure of the Third Reich, and to do so again and again without coming close to making an apology, put him well beyond the point of no return.
Labour’s disciplinary hearing suspended him for another year, but once again, rather than coming forward to say sorry, or at least keeping quiet, out has come Ken with his “yes, but Hitler” schtick. It is dismaying to all of those who know that, unlike Bozza, his time as Mayor of London had much that was positive and beneficial about it. It is doubly dismaying that this row might allow Bozza’s tenure to escape proper scrutiny.
Because Livingstone refuses to say sorry, or at least button his North And South, there will be a further Inquiry by Labour into his conduct. This is undoubtedly the right thing to do. If at the end of it he is expelled, he can have no complaints. Ken clearly cares a great deal about the capital; his record proves that. But no-one is beyond the disciplinary process.
The time of Ken Livingstone and Labour was for a time, but not for all time.