Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word: Offensive – and wrong

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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Richard Angell

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  • The question of the attempted transportation of the Jews from Germany to Palestine does now cry out for a serious, high-profile television programme. It really happened. More people ought to know about it.

    Note that it has taken Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader, and Angela Rayner as Shadow Education Secretary (although I think that Pat Glass would also have done this), to come up with something as basic as the removal the VAT exemption from private school fees in order to provide free school meals for all state primary pupils. In 13 years, Labour never even did that. Nor did it do so in any of its previous periods in office.

    Between this and her position on Ken Livingstone, Angela’s eventual Leadership campaign is off to a flying start, with left and right wings both fully operational. Of course, one would have to see who the other candidates were. But Angela signed the Durham Teaching Assistants’ petition at last year’s Eve of Gala Rally, once I had persuaded them to approach her. She marched them at the Gala itself. And now this. What next?

    Well, in England, the commercial school sector inspects itself. Therefore, let the condition of a commercial school’s continuing charitable status be its having been adjudged good or better by Ofsted, using the same criteria as for state schools, with the reports published, and with the value-added measure applied, thereby requiring those schools to have demonstrated how they had improved pupils’ abilities.

    But know this. As young Momentum and allied activists of my acquaintance are discovering, schools answerable to right-wing-if-anything local Labour councillors and municipal officers (and that culture has been widely carried over into the new arrangements) would never consider giving a platform to the left-wing figures who were routinely invited to speak at public schools. Change the councillors, of course, and then have the new ones rein in the officers. But we are living in the meantime.

    Still, the future belongs to us. From the grandest public school of all, boys arranged to meet Vladimir Putin before Theresa May ever did. Through those institutions, the bonds between the youth of the old English elite and the youth of the new Russian elite are strong, and getting stronger. Between that and the rise of Corbynism, with certain touring speakers straddling the two (since the latter has the advantage of what are now state schools’ extremely short days as well as their ever-long holidays in which to do all sorts of other things), and with at least one television station linking the whole thing together, the future well and truly belongs to us.

  • Richard, a large number of Jewish academics do not agree with your view of history but do agree with Ken’s view. Why do you not direct your bile towards the Jews who do not agree with you? Should you be expelled from the Labour Party for expressing views contrary to the history so many Jews believe to be the correct version?

    You and your ilk bring shame to the Labour Party with this witch hunt.


  • Roy,
    This is the letter and the people that Richard Angell is denial of.

    I really hope that Angell and rest get their wish and Livingstone is expelled. Lets do this properly. Let the courts decide.

    Letter from Jewish members and supporters of the Labour Party to the Labour Party National Constitutional Committee

    30 March 2017

    We write as Jewish members and supporters of the Labour Party in support of Ken Livingstone. We do not find the disciplinary charges brought against him in the name of the NEC to be credible.

    Starting in February last year there has been a skilfully delivered campaign to present the Left of the Labour Party as riddled with antisemitism, a charge which we can refute based on many years of accumulated experience. The motivations for this campaign have been widely discussed, and we do not intend to address them here. It is sufficient to say that contesting antisemitism has clearly not been the only or even the main reason for the enthusiasm with which this campaign has been pursued.

    To be specific, we do not find Ken Livingstone’s remarks about the Zionist leadership’s involvement in negotiating the ‘Ha’avarah’ (Transfer) agreement with the Nazis in the 1930s in any way antisemitic. This agreement is a historical fact, and it gave vital support to Hitler at a time when his regime was under severe international pressure.

    In his interview with Vanessa Feltz in which this remark was made Ken Livingstone was defending Naz Shah from accusations that her social media postings of two years previous were antisemitic. He did not believe this to be so, and neither do we – nor does her subsequent apology make them so. They fall well within the spectrum of reasonable comment on a contentious political issue. (We think it is now well known that the allegedly offensive map she re-tweeted came from a prominent Jewish US academic and activist.) Naz Shah made no expression of hostility to Jews because we are Jews. There is no expression whatsoever of prejudice directed at Jews.

    Follow us on Facebook to get all the latest.
    As Jews, we are appalled that such a serious issue as antisemitism is being used in this cynical and manipulative way. It is harmful to Jewish people that false charges of antisemitism are so casually thrown around. The Labour Party should decisively distance itself from this practice.

    Over many years the Labour Party in office has contributed consistently to the fight against antisemitism. In particular we pay tribute to the leading role that Ken Livingstone has played in this, both as Leader of the GLC and as Mayor of London.

    In sum we believe it would be a travesty if the Labour Party were to find Ken Livingstone guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Party. We would urge the Party not to make such a damaging mistake.

    Signed by:

    Prof. Haim Bresheeth, Hornsey & Wood Green CLP

    Ron Cohen, Finchley & Golders Green CLP

    Li Doran, Tottenham CLP

    Michael Ellman, Islington North CLP

    Arye Finkle, Barnet CLP

    Murray Glickman, Ilford South CLP

    Abe Hayeem, Harrow East CLP

    Rosamine Hayeem, Harrow East CLP

    Riva Joffe, Holborn and St Pancras CLP

    Ann Jungman, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP

    David Kaye, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

    Marion Kozak, Holborn and St Pancras CLP

    Simon Korner, Hackney North CLP

    Beverley Krell, Cheadle CLP

    Prof. Frank Land, West Devon/Totnes CLP

    Ralph Land CBE, Hammersmith & Fulham CLP

    Rachel Lever, Hastings & Rye CLP

    Susanne Levin, Cities of London & Westminster CLP

    Miriam Margolyes OBE, Lambeth CLP

    Helen Marks, Liverpool Riverside CLP

    Frances Rifkin, Holborn and St Pancras CLP

    Steven Mendoza, Twickenham CLP

    Glyn Secker, Dulwich and West Norwood CLP

    Angie Mindel, Nottingham East CLP

    Prof. Mica Nava, Islington North CLP

    Leon Rosselson, affiliated Labour Party member via Musicians’ Union

    Prof. Donald Sassoon, Islington South and Finsbury CLP

    Amanda Sebestyen, Holborn & St Pancras CLP

    Sam Semoff, Liverpool Riverside CLP

    Prof. Avi Shlaim, Oxford West and Abingdon CLP

    Prof. Annabelle Sreberny, Islington North CLP

    Sam Weinstein, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

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