Ken Livingstone’s warped view of history, Diane Abbott on taxing private schools, and a sad farewell to Sarah Hayward – Progress director Richard Angell has this week’s Last Word
I had two statements ready for the outcome of Ken Livingstone’s hearing regarding his Adolf Hitler ‘supported Zionism … before going mad’ outbursts of April 2016. One for when he was found guilty and expelled, another for the circumstance where he was found – somehow – not guilty. I, of all people, never imagined this situation could produce a ‘third way’. After an 11 month process the National Constitutional Committee made the worse possible action: guilty of all three accounts but a punishment that can be described as somewhere between a slap on the wrist and a pat on the back. The ruling does not even bar Livingstone from standing for the National Executive Committee in 2018.
The Unite representative on the NCC, Russell Cartwright, probably knew that when he was formulating the judgment. The treasurer of the so-called Campaign for Labour Party Democracy should have recused himself from the NCC panel this week. The CLPD backed Livingstone for the NEC year after year until he was suspended last April. People should not be sat in judgement of their close factional allies. It makes a mockery of the process and is an insult to party members, let alone Britain’s Jewish community. The fact that Unite members made up two thirds of the panel – Brenda Warrington being the other – will reflect poorly on a once great union that had a proud history of anti-racism.
It is worth reflecting on what Livingstone said and why is caused such offence. To say Adolf Hitler ‘supported Zionism’ – Haavara agreement or not – is Holocaust revisionism of the worst kind. The idea the agreement had any other motive on the part of the Nazis than getting Jews out of Germany is plain ridiculous. Furthermore, the inference that this agreement was made on 25 August 1933 by free people, with no threats of violence or harm to their families, is insulting and offensive. The first Nazi concentration camp had opened on 22 March of the same year, a national one-day boycott of Jewish owned business has taken place a week later on 1 April. On 7 April ‘non-Ayrans’ were banned from the legal profession and civil service. By 21 April the kosher ritual of shechita was outlawed. On 23 August 1933 four lists of people were published, each losing their German citizenship, passports and other privileges; at the top of the first list of 33 names were four Jewish authors. The genocide – not yet murderous – had begun.
Hitler had one aim – to rid Germany and the surrounding ‘Lebensraum’ of Jewish people. In 1942 when he settled on the ‘final solution’ to send Jews to gas chambers it was because he felt he had exhausted all other options – even sending the Jews to Madagascar. In the 1920s he wrote ‘Mein Kampf’ – in which he explicitly ruled out a Jewish homeland, as it would act as the headquarters for ‘the Jewish conspiracy’. It is unclear from Livingstone’s warped view of history if this is before or after Hitler ‘went mad’.
Labour really let itself down this week. These actions must be corrected, and quickly. The fact Jeremy Corbyn’s statement implied he was asking the NEC to refer it back, when actually he was just reporting the actions of others, was disingenuous. The fact the Labour leader would not mention antisemitism and believes Livingstone should play a role in Labour again is an abdication of responsibility. What would the disgraced former mayor of London have to do for Corbyn to want him out of Labour? ‘Zero tolerance to antisemitism’ must mean zero tolerance.
Someone has a sense of humour
The fact Diane Abbott was asked to go on Question Time the week Labour announced its intention to tax private school fees proves there are some in the leader’s office with a sense of humour. Without any irony she said that she would have been ‘happy to pay more for a scheme like this’. Proof that it is a votewinner, at least.
She also showed no contrition for being the one that pressured Ed Miliband into U-turning on the Syria vote in 2013, and the dire consequences that have followed.
And she was equivocal in her comments about Livingstone – which I think would have been unlikely had the group of victims been any other than Jewish people – and then chose to attack a fellow panel member for finding Livingstone’s remarks antisemitic. You could not make this up. If you did not laugh you would cry!
Sarah in Camden
Leaders rarely get to leave on their own terms, let alone at a time when the news is out of the blue, people are still wanting more and the genuine surprise means they can share an account of their achievements that means they get reflected upon.
Sarah Hayward in Camden has pulled off all of the above. After five years leading an inner London borough in the toughest spending envelopes, she and her group have much to be proud of.
There are the issues that get Labour members most excited – building council homes, taking in more refugees than any other London borough, creating an ‘equalities taskforce’ and becoming a Living Wage employer.
Then there is her record on improved childcare, adult apprenticeships and the creation of a faith partnership. Whether is it her work improving employment for BAME women or on domestic violence, minorities were championed and never overlooked.
It was not done alone: the councillors and officers deserve much of the credit. But, all of it was made more than the sum of its parts by Hayward’s leadership. She speaks truth to power nationally and has taken a role on shaping the wider Labour party. She will be missed but has not yet given Labour all she has to offer. I wish her, and whoever her successor might be, every luck in the world.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell
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