Ken Livingstone has issued a personal statement about the decision of the High Court to stay his four-week suspension as mayor of London. At the risk of repeating myself, I'd like to have another crack at demolishing his pathetic defence. His words in black; mine in red.
'In my view, the ruling of the Case Tribunal to suspend me from office when there is no suggestion that I have acted unlawfully strikes at the fundamental principles of democracy. The decision of the High Court today to stay the suspension ordered by the Case Tribunal is therefore a very welcome development. Following the Court's decision my legal team will set out the arguments not only about whether there was a breach of the Code of Conduct but also whether the sanction imposed by the Case Tribunal was appropriate.' Ends
Earlier in the day the Mayor made the following personal statement: 'Yesterday my lawyers lodged an appeal in the High Court against the decision of the tribunal to suspend me from office for four weeks. I have taken the time over the last few days to read everything that has appeared in the newspapers about the ramifications of the decision of the Tribunal. Irrespective of what people think about the original issue, there is a virtual unanimity that it is wholly wrong that an unelected quango should have the power to remove from office a mayor who has committed no crime and has been elected on two separate occasions by the voters of this city.
The unelected quango has no less legal validity than a magistrate, also appointed and not elected. The Adjudication Panel for England, which heard the case against Livingstone is an independent judicial Tribunal which was established by Part III, Chapter IV of the Local Government Act 2000 to hear and adjudicate on matters concerning the conduct of local authority members. Pursuant to section 59(4)(d) the Adjudication Panel for England considers references made to it by an Ethical Standards Officer of the Standards Board for England. Ken Livingstone in accepting the office of Mayor, did so is full awareness of the governing legislation and gave a written undertaking to abide by it. Maybe he wasn't paying attention.
It is difficult to recall the last time I agreed with Lord Tebbit, for example, but people from across the political spectrum agree that the basic principle of democracy is that those elected by the people should only be removed by the voters.
No they don't. Are those elected by the people not subject to any kind of legal or judicial framework?
The Standards Board for England argues that I “hold the Code of Conduct in contempt”. That is not the case, but I have made no secret that I believe the Standards Board for England is a completely unnecessary waste of time and taxpayers’ money and should be abolished.
He doesn't address the charge here. An assertion of innocence is not the same as a defence. He's entitled to assert his innocence, but that is not the end of the matter. For those who want to read the findings of the Adjudication Panel, a pdf can be downloaded here (Download Livingstone.pdf ) .
The police and the courts should be the instruments by which wrongdoing in local government is dealt with. This body was originally established to prevent the sort of financial wrongdoing that characterised Lady Porter’s corrupt regime at Westminster City Council in the l980s. Far from identifying financial corruption the Standards Board has ended up regulating the use of language and to do this it uses the vague and uncertain concept of “behaviour that brings an office or authority into disrepute”. The trouble with the concept of disrepute is that can be made to mean whatever you want it to mean. It may or may not be appropriate for the regulation of behaviour in a gentleman’s club or a regimental mess but it should not have greater sway than the decisions of ordinary voters as to who should hold public office.
The Adjudication Panel is fairly specific on this point and Livingstone's attempts to rubbish its integrity are a way of skirting the issue.
The Standards Board has itself recognised this by reviewing the code of conduct and has recommended to government that outside of official duties the code “should be restricted only to matters that would be regarded as unlawful”. The government has accepted this proposal. I wonder why therefore the Standards Board continued its case against me when both they and the government had decided to change the rules so that such a case can never be brought again.
The case is based on existing legislation. His attempt to insinuate a conspiracy is weaselly.
Unsurprisingly one group of newspapers has stood out against the general consensus that the Standards Board has usurped powers which should rest only with the voters. The Daily Mail stated that I lied and tried to smear their reporter with the claim that he had sworn at me. The Standards Board investigated whether I had lied and decided in the light of the six second gap in the tape of our exchange on the balance of probabilities that I did not fabricate the allegation that the reporter swore at me.
Evidence? The six second gap in the tape comes after the exchange which was the subject of the original complaint.
The editor of the Evening Standard Veronica Wadley complained in her personally written editorial that I had failed to show “the minimum standard of behaviour that everyone should respect”. She then went on to describe me as a liar, a hypocrite, a coward and arrogant. Clearly Ms Wadley has had an irony by-pass.
Nor is her venom in this instance untypical. Shortly after she became editor of the Evening Standard on the 21 November 2002 she published a profile of me in which I was described as a “snappy, snarling brute”, “ voracious”, “frightening”, “ugly”, “raging” and “gripped by paranoia.”
I have not been one of those politicians who resorts to the libel courts every time something like that appears. I do however find it a bit strange that some journalists have worked themselves up into a frenzy because I exercise my free speech rights to tell journalists what I think of them as well.
I'm a journalist. I haven't worked myself up into a frenzy. But if you listen to the exchange or read the transcript, is your impression; "Old Ken, what a card! Anyway, that journalist was really harassing him!"?
The Adjudication tribunal found that my comment to the Evening Standard journalist had been `unnecessarily insensitive’ and `offensive’. Those are not grounds for overturning the decision of the voters of London to elect me as Mayor.
The decision of voters hasn't been overturned. The Adjudication Panel ordered a four week suspension on full pay. (For the record, I agree with Norm that a censure would have been appropriate, though I'd like to see the voters vote him out at the next opportunity.)
As far as I am aware there is no law against `unnecessary insensitivity’ or even `offensiveness’ to journalists harassing you as you try to go home. But he is surely aware of the law under which the Standards Board was constituted and why. There is, however, an un-stated allegation: the implicit suggestion that my comment was anti-Semitic. It is not explicitly stated because it cannot be substantiated. It is nonetheless there and used to give weight to charges which would otherwise be too trivial to merit the gigantic fuss that has been made about this brief private exchange.
No, this does not form part of the case against Livingstone.
The Independent alleged that the Community Safety Trust, a Jewish defence organisation, had claimed that “my comments were to blame for eleven anti-Semitic attacks in London and the South East”. The truth is somewhat different. The Community Safety Trust in fact claim that there have been eleven incidents following my speech of which the worst was an offensive letter to a Member of Parliament.
The truth is I have appointed Black, Asian and Jewish people to the highest levels of my administration and waged an unrelenting war on every manifestation of racism, anti-Semitism and every other kind of discrimination.
Associated Newspapers have always led the charge against these policies.
...as he no doubt told them forcefully when he was the ES restaurant critic from 1996 to 2000.
Since I have been Mayor, racial and religiously motivated incidents in this city have declined by more than a third. Over the last year anti-Semitic incidents have reduced by 20 per cent against a background in which they are rising nationally. There is still a significant problem. A Jewish person is three times more likely to suffer a racist attack than a white European. A person of African, Caribbean or south Asian descent is ten times more likely to suffer a racist attack. And an Arab person is eleven times more likely to suffer a racist attack in London today. But significant progress has been made against the trend that is taking place elsewhere in Europe.
In reality, it is Associated Newspapers that has a long record of anti-Semitism and support for fascism. It welcomed the Black shirts in the 1930s. It has admitted that, as recently as the retirement party of the last editor of the Daily Mail, two of its staff dressed in Nazi uniforms and were not asked to leave. Associated Newspapers has never apologised for this or its record of support for fascism.
...as he no doubt told them forcefully when he was the ES restaurant critic from 1996 to 2000.
It was of course the Board of Deputies of British Jews that decided to refer me to the Standards Board for England. Throughout they have protested that this issue is just about how I treated one reporter who happens to be Jewish. I don’t believe a word of it.
His point being...? (Why 'of course'?)
Some time before this incident was blown out of all proportion the Board of Deputies asked to meet me to urge me to tone down my views on the Israeli government.
His point being...? (The Board of Deputies, for which I hold no brief, is not a one-issue organisation.)
For far too long the accusation of anti-Semitism has been used against anybody who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government. Even Tony Blair was recently described as a “common anti-Semite” in an Israeli newspaper. Nor is being Jewish a defence against this charge. The famous Israeli conductor and pianist, Daniel Barenboim, was recently denounced by an Israeli Minister as “a real Jew hater, a real anti-Semite.” One of Israel’s foremost writers, Amos Oz, after criticising right wing religious settlers, was similarly told the roots of his `bias’ lay in `the swamp of European anti-Semitism’.
Red herring, as anti-semitism is mentioned nowhere in the deliberations of the Adjudication Panel. For the record, however, it bears repeating that just because someone is critical of the State of Israel, that does not mean that they are, or are not, a priori anti-semitic.
Antony Lerman, director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research says that equating criticism of Israel policies with anti-Semitism “drains the word anti-Semitism of any useful meaning”.
Agreed, but what's the relevance?
For decades the charge of anti-Semitism has been used to try to suppress any meaningful debate about the policies of the Israeli government. Londoners who may have seen George Clooney’s recent film, Goodnight and Good Luck will recognise the tactic of McCarthyism updated for a new age. It will not stop me from continuing to discuss the need for a just settlement in the Middle East that recognises the right of Israel to exist side-by-side with a viable Palestinian State.
Go for it, Ken!
One of the positive clarifications to come out of this whole affair is that, Jon Benjamin, the Director General of the Board of Deputies of British Jews has had to admit on television last week: `We’ve never said the Mayor is anti-Semitic.’
So why is he going on (and on) about the 'non-charge' of anti-semitism?
I am going to end this statement where I began. The fundamental issue is not whether or not I was `insensitive’, it is the principle that those whom the people elect should only be removed by the people or because they have broken the law. It is because this fundamental principle is at stake, that I pledge to do everything in my power to have this attack on the democratic rights of Londoners overturned.'
Once again, whatever one may think of the 'sentence', a four week suspension on full pay does not equal a removal from office. As for breaking the law, see above.
Ken Livingstone......not a mentsch.
Now, a word on the Standards Board, that 'unelected quango': The Standards Board for England was formally established in March 2001, set up by an Act of Parliament. It works with 386 local authorities, 8,350 parish councils, 31 fire and civil defence authorities, 43 police authorities, 6 passenger transport authorities, 7 national parks authorities, the Greater London Authority, the Corporation of London, the Broads authority, and the Council of the Isles of Scilly . The Board's main task is to ensure that standards of ethical conduct are maintained across authorities and to deal with complaints of misconduct against individual members. Speaking personally, I'm kind of glad they exist.