London mayor suspended
February 24, 2006 6:34 AM   Subscribe

London's mayor suspended for four weeks for comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.
posted by atticus (66 comments total)

 
That's a farce. Hopefully he will appeal to the High Court and win. The Daily Mail and General Trust have had a witchhunt out for Ken in every one of their rags for decades, and unfortunately some people read them and take them seriously.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 6:38 AM on February 24, 2006


(They employed the journalist in question).
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 6:40 AM on February 24, 2006


Totally stupid on both sides. The voters should decide whether to punish him or not at the next election.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:41 AM on February 24, 2006


In the long run, this sort of thing undermines any anti-defamation cause.
posted by mert at 6:43 AM on February 24, 2006


Jewish conspiracy! Jewish conspiracy!
posted by j-urb at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2006


Who would have thought that a directly-elected mayor could be struck off by an unelected panel for making a historical analogy?
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2006


Everybody (including his own party) hates Ken, huh? Everybody, that is, except for the people of London who vote for him.

Didn't the GLC get dissolved in the 80's specifically to stop him from embarassing Skeletor?
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:45 AM on February 24, 2006


Jewish conspiracy! Jewish conspiracy!

Yeah wait, I thought that Jews and communists were supposed to be in bed together? Wow, who knew the white supremacists and the BNP were full of shit?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:46 AM on February 24, 2006


I predict great things for this thread.
posted by 327.ca at 6:47 AM on February 24, 2006


Who would have thought that a directly-elected mayor could be struck off by an unelected panel for making a historical analogy?

Well, who appoints the panel? If it's a city panel, I could understand. If it's a national panel, I'd have a bit more trouble with it.

Also, wtf? Is the problem that journalist is Jewish? Is it illegal to call anyone a Nazi in the UK? Can I call Tony Blair a Nazi (because he totally is) if I were in the UK? What about a German?

I would understand if there were specific derogatory titles that couldn't be given to certain people (can't Jews the k-word, can't call black people the N-Word, can't call Japanese people the J-word, you get the idea) but not being able to call Jews Nazis seems short sighted, what if they really are nazi-ish?
posted by delmoi at 6:50 AM on February 24, 2006


Enough of this already. Free speech is free speech is free speech.
posted by FeldBum at 6:51 AM on February 24, 2006


Why hasn't the Duke of Edinburgh been struck off yet?
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 6:57 AM on February 24, 2006


Huh. The video on atticus's link includes the exchange, but no context, nothing leading up to the exchange. Why did he call the man a German war criminal? I don't see what even a bottom-feeding tabloid journalist could do to justify that.

Without this information, my feeling on this is that it was a kind of stupid thing to say, and the mayor should either apologize or be soundly spanked by the press for not doing so. But removing him from office really isn't the right decision.
posted by orange swan at 6:58 AM on February 24, 2006


This seems like a travesty of a ruling. I agree that the voters should decide how to respond.

On the other hand, it's disingenuous to act as if comparing a Jewish writer to a concentration camp guard is just some run of the mill historical analogy. It's a very specific thing to say in a very specific context. It's, at the least, purposely inflammatory in the same way calling an African American man in NYC a "boy" would be inflammatory while calling an Italian American man a "boy" would not be.
posted by OmieWise at 7:02 AM on February 24, 2006


He didn't know he was Jewish when he made the comment; although he didn't withdraw it when he found out.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 7:03 AM on February 24, 2006


Minitruth and minispeak, here we come.
posted by mrbill at 7:04 AM on February 24, 2006


Sorry Orange. The party was to celebrate Chris Smith "coming out" as the first openly gay MP 20 years ago, here's a transcript of the conversation...


Finegold: Mr Livingstone, Evening Standard. How did tonight go?

Livingstone: How awful for you. Have you thought of having treatment?

Finegold: How did tonight go?

Livingstone: Have you thought of having treatment?

Finegold: Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?

Livingstone: What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?

Finegold: No, I'm Jewish, I wasn't a German war criminal and I'm actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?

Livingstone: Ah right, well you might be [Jewish], but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?

Finegold: Great, I have you on record for that. So, how was tonight?

Livingstone: It's nothing to do you with you because your paper is a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots.

Finegold: I'm a journalist and I'm doing my job. I'm only asking for a comment.

Livingstone: Well, work for a paper that doesn't have a record of supporting facism.


Livingstone then walked off.
posted by atticus at 7:05 AM on February 24, 2006


Protocols of the Elders of Awesome writes "He didn't know he was Jewish when he made the comment; although he didn't withdraw it when he found out."

Well the first makes things a bit different, the second makes him more of an asshole.
posted by OmieWise at 7:06 AM on February 24, 2006


On preview, the man's almost as charming as Cheney.
posted by OmieWise at 7:07 AM on February 24, 2006


More here and here
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 7:07 AM on February 24, 2006


Thanks, atticus.

I'll amend my assessment — that was an assholish thing to say, and the man's a tool. And/or a drunk.
posted by orange swan at 7:10 AM on February 24, 2006


The best I could find about this on the BBC site (at the bottom of the article):

'On tape Mr Livingstone is heard asking reporter Oliver Finegold if he is a "German war criminal".

Mr Finegold replies: "No, I'm Jewish, I wasn't a German war criminal. I'm quite offended by that."

The mayor then says: "Ah right, well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?" '


That's it?!? That's what's causing all the furor? Bah. I'd've thought the Mayor asked if the guy's name was Cohen or maybe even called him a Torah scholar.

(I see Atticus just posted a more complete version of the exchange, but after the trouble I went to to find the quote I'm posting this anyway. PTHTHT! Oh and by the way, it's spelled F-A-S-C-I-S-M.)
posted by davy at 7:11 AM on February 24, 2006


Actually, Ken was suspended because he drew a cartoon of the guy wearing a concentration camp on his head.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:14 AM on February 24, 2006


Livingstone's statement in response at the time. (Protocols linked to it above)

It's worth reading just bit of it, because the London newspapers in question are a bunch of cunts and their reporters do harrangue members of the named classes incessantly.
As it turned out, Livingstone had had quite enough because he was being pursued by a member of the anti-gay press at a party for his gay ex-politician friend, he responded in anger and in very unfortunate terms.

He's not the monster that he's being painted as, however there is no end to the painters because he's upset a goodly number of important people.
posted by NinjaPirate at 7:16 AM on February 24, 2006


Sounds to me like he was making an analogy. Tough shit if it was about Germans in ww2. It wasn't a racist remark. Branding it as such is so much kaka. He even clarified the analogy, just so it couldn't be considered racist. If you want to criticize him for his opinion of a paper, fine.
posted by Goofyy at 7:17 AM on February 24, 2006


Adjudication Panel for England

I'm sure I'm not the only Brit thinking "Who the hell are they?" This is a ridiculous decision and they should not have the power to do this anyway. Livingstone is elected and is subject to the combined power of the press and the electorate, what has this panel got to do with anything?
posted by teleskiving at 7:17 AM on February 24, 2006


You can see Ken's point about the Daily Mail group having been "the leading advocates of anti-Semitism in Britain for half a century."

But then why did he accept £33,000 to write a column for them that lasted 20 months?
posted by creeky at 7:32 AM on February 24, 2006


Finegold: No, I'm Jewish, I wasn't a German war criminal and I'm actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?

Offended by an irritating -question- ? Aww come on the burden of proof wouldn't be yours...just say NO and add I despide war criminals.

Livingstone: Ah right, well you might be [Jewish], but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?

Quite a riveting analogy, he's not apologetic of guards and is suggesting guards used lame excuses, yet it doesn't apply to pressing journalist...an asshole journalist is on the same dishuman level of a nazi guard ? Doubt that.

Anyway what a big bruhaha, I guess tabloid readers are happy, yet suspesion seems unwarranted.
posted by elpapacito at 7:33 AM on February 24, 2006


creeky : because pecuniam non olet
posted by elpapacito at 7:33 AM on February 24, 2006


I don't understand why the tabloids haven't run the headline "Red Card for Red Ken" yet

this politics-as-soccer thing is awesome -- soon they'll be checking MP's urine for steroids, too
posted by matteo at 7:43 AM on February 24, 2006


Good on Ken.

Not so Red anymore though. :/ not being very nice to the Tube workers.
posted by By The Grace of God at 7:54 AM on February 24, 2006


This isn't a free speech issue; it's a workplace behaviour standards issue. This is part of the Adjudication Panel's responsibilities. They're responsible for overseeing complaints about public authorities, including elected ones. You shouldn't expect to be able to protest being disciplined in your workplace for saying something offensive by claiming freedom of speech. This is no different, and the fact that he was elected to his job rather than merely hired into it has no relevance, IMHO.

All that said, I think that the journalist making a complaint to the Panel is overkill, and it's almost certain to have a chilling effect on government dealings with the media in England.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:00 AM on February 24, 2006


"Free speech is free speech is free speech."
Problem is, Ken Livingstone does not support all kinds of free speech:

February 10 2006, Mayor Livingstone spoke at a muslim rally against the Mohammed cartoons:

"He said that he was confident that the police would cope with the rally, adding that the publication of the cartoons was a “deliberate and gratuitous insult to the Muslim community”. He said: “Had such images bordering on racist been used to portray other groups they would rightly have been condemned as racist or anti-Semitic"”.

February 24 2006:
"Though the mayor is accused of making an offensive slur, his lawyer yesterday cited the European convention on human rights, as well as Voltaire, in his defence."

Besides, as a leader for the Greater London Council from 1981 to 1986, Ken Livingstone, was no stranger to political correctness and limits to free speech:


"The concept of political correctness was perhaps invented at County Hall.

The terms "chairman" and even "chairwoman" were outlawed as sexist. Instead, the person who headed a committee became an inanimate object: "the chair".

In the Members' Restaurant, "black coffee" was deemed racist. If you wanted one you had to ask for "coffee without milk"."

posted by iviken at 8:18 AM on February 24, 2006


Ridiculous. Jews call each other nazis all the time. We call everybody nazis. When my uncle doesn't get his muffin on time, he accuses his server of being in the Gestapo. We invetned Godwin.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:23 AM on February 24, 2006


That's the problem when you have "speech codes" and "workplace behaviour standards" that override free speech. It's not hard for those codes and standards to be used by opportunists waiting like coiled snakes to leap on the slightest misstep, the most innocuous misspoken word, in order to bring you down.

"Red" Ken had many enemies, and Britian's stifling politically correct culture gave them the means to nail him on something eventually.
posted by slatternus at 8:25 AM on February 24, 2006


That last quote from the Telegraph, who still haven't quite worked out why we can't call it Rhodesia any more.
posted by athenian at 8:25 AM on February 24, 2006


(last quote in iviken's post)
posted by athenian at 8:26 AM on February 24, 2006


Ridiculous. Jews call each other nazis all the time. We call everybody nazis. When my uncle doesn't get his muffin on time, he accuses his server of being in the Gestapo. We invetned Godwin.

Arnold Godwin was Jewish.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:27 AM on February 24, 2006


Disgraceful. Yet another craven assault on free speech from thin-skinned, agenda-driven bigots. Also, there is nothing racist whatsoever about comparing someone with a nazi so why certain people are making reference to Livingstone's observations about racism, I have no idea. Actually, of course I do. I know perfectly well why certain people are doing that, and so do they.
posted by Decani at 8:29 AM on February 24, 2006


In the Members' Restaurant, "black coffee" was deemed racist. If you wanted one you had to ask for "coffee without milk"."

I know you're just quoting from the Telegraph, but I'll eat my hat if this old chestnut is actually true.
posted by teleskiving at 8:37 AM on February 24, 2006


A Jewish journalist from a pro-fascist newspaper gets mad when he's compared to a capo? And it's bad "workplace standards" to call him out on it in a country where lawmakers routinely yell at the Prime Minister? What utter horseshit.
posted by mediareport at 8:43 AM on February 24, 2006


Ken says what he thinks, and we'll vote him in again, if only because he hands out regular bitch-slaps to Associated Newspapers.

And yes, he wrote a column for The Standard, but why not try and get your own point of view to Londoners who are often fed reactionary lies?
posted by Blip at 8:54 AM on February 24, 2006


The initial exchange sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
posted by brujita at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2006


Okay, okay. Other countries' ideas of free speech are different. England's Official Secrets Act would probably not fly in the US (not yet, anyway). The winning argument was basically that, no, he does not have free speech, but has brought his office disrepute.

And this mayor has a history of being provocative towards Jews.

His responses to the anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from England or invitation of Yusuf al-Qaradawi to London strike me as more bizarre and lame than anything else.

Taken in context, though, anti-Semitic incidents in England are a real problem.
posted by Adamchik at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2006


Adamchik, the mayor has a history of being provocative towards Israel, not Jews.
posted by ciderwoman at 9:39 AM on February 24, 2006


And this mayor has a history of being provocative towards Jews.

That article doesn't mention a single previous incident of his being "provocative towards Jews". Not unless you desperately want to trot out the old insult that paints all Jews as being collectively responsible for the policies of various Israeli governments.

And to reiterate, there is nothing in any of his comments that can be honestly interpreted as anti-semitic. Insulting, yes; racist, never.

To get the full context, you have to appreciate the changing nature of the Evening Standard. Under other editors - notably Max Hastings, who despite his right-wing leanings made it a pluralistic and intelligent read - the Standard has at times been a very fine paper, completely without the sense that it reflects the same reactionary agenda as the Daily Mail. But under the current editor, Veronica Wadley, it's become an endless parade of crime scare stories, reactionary politics, paparazzi gossip, and articles about mortgages. And it's run a constant campaign against Ken, his policies, and his person.

I know a fair number of people who've worked for the Standard under Wadley, and I've little doubt that Finegold was indeed sent to the party to harrass and provoke the attendees, especially Livingstone. It's the way they work.
posted by flashboy at 9:50 AM on February 24, 2006


"Arnold Godwin was Jewish."

'Godwin' is a Jewish name?

/self-parody
posted by davy at 10:00 AM on February 24, 2006


Ken's response to this was quite wonderful, and prompted me to voice my support for a politician for the first time in my life:
The mayor told the news conference at City Hall: "A week ago I said it was not my intention to apologise to the Daily Mail group or the journalist."

He said that after a week of reflection he had "decided to stand by that position".

"There will be therefore no apology or expression of regret to the Daily Mail Group."

He added: "To the Daily Mail group, no-one in Britain is less qualified to complain about anti-Semitism.

"In truth, those papers were the leading advocate of anti-Semitism in the country for half a century."

He said that while it is true the Daily Mail has moved on from anti-Semitism, it now targets asylum seekers and Muslims.

"For the Mail group the victims may change but the intolerance, hatred and fear pervade every issue of the papers," Mr Livingstone said.
Right on, Ken. It would've been the easiest thing in the world for him to issue an insincere apology, disposing of this manufactured 'row', but clearly his conscience wouldn't allow that.
posted by influx at 10:32 AM on February 24, 2006


I second flashboy about the Standard - it is a dreadful, dreadful paper. Its campaign against Ken is like some bizarre family vendetta. And I am sure the Standard's coverage has a major effect on fear of crime in the capital, for instance, despite the Met's best efforts. It has no real competitor, so millions of wiped out commuters end up reading it. I've heard rumours that a competitor is to be launched shortly - hurrah - but then thought better when I found out it's to be run by News International. Ah...
posted by greycap at 10:37 AM on February 24, 2006


ciderwoman and flashboy-

Some people might be able to distinguish Livingstone's cartoon of Menachem Begin in an SS uniform, captioned "The Final Solution" as being anti-Israel but not anti-Semitic. However, I think that the subtle distinction is rightly lost on most people.

It is hard to fathom Livingstone's spirited defense of Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi (check out the link from the UK's Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association). This sort of invitation (with a repeat invitation later), plus his calling criticism of Qaradawi "a conspiracy by Jewish Zionists to make Islamists look bad," smells funny.
posted by Adamchik at 10:42 AM on February 24, 2006


Flashboy is bang on. Ken may have acted like a dick but the Standard is little more than a metropolitan Daily Mail. It's a dreadful tabloid which in recent years has gone out of it's way to bring Ken down... they've been milking this incident for all they're worth.
posted by blag at 10:47 AM on February 24, 2006


If Bush was Jewish we'd all be going to jail.
posted by iamck at 10:56 AM on February 24, 2006


I agree with solid-one-love on the workplace behavior standards issue. You'd think by now, politcians would have enough common sense not to make analogies like that.
posted by Alpenglow at 10:56 AM on February 24, 2006


I agree that by NOT apologising Ken has done the right and honest thing.
Reading the transcript of the conversation it's obvious that the comment (made on leaving a party, presumably after having had a bit to drink) was meant to be about the journalist in questions' abdication of responsibility for the behaviour of his paper (hence " you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?") in harassing Mr. Livingstone. It was nothing to do with his Jewishness. I'm sure that if Ken had thought for a minute, and realised the guy was Jewish he'd have realised that it wasn't the best chosen analogy, but "Great, I have you on record for that. So, how was tonight?" doesn't sound like the response of someone who was really all that terribly insulted at the time, does it ? It sounds more like someone who was quite pleased to have some material that he could use. The reason Mr. Livingstone didn't want to talk to the guy in the first place was the continual harassment and smear campaign run by his newspaper - under the circumstances I'd be a bit pissed off too.

Whatever one thinks about Ken Livingstones' politics you have to admit that he's got more integrity than pretty much any other politician in Britain today, and to accuse him of anti-semitism is preposterous. He could have got out of this situation so easily with a simple insincere apology, but he stuck to his word, and treated this "complaint" for what it is - an absurd and hypocritical smear campaign by an openly hateful newspaper.
posted by silence at 11:45 AM on February 24, 2006


So...the guy felt harassed by staffers of the Daily Mail (a group he asserts has a history of persecuting minorities). A staffer uses "It's my job to do this" as excuse for harassment. The victim of the harassment compares the "I'm just doing my job" excuse to that given by nazi guards to justify their behavior, and later clarifies "That you are paid by Daily Mail group to do the job you do is not a defence for your behaviour." The Daily Mail has used Holcaust comparisons in print for their own purposes ("Daily Mail writer Quentin Letts who described Labour MP Andrew Dismore as 'a Holocaust bore'.") and...the problem is?
posted by onegreeneye at 11:53 AM on February 24, 2006


a group he asserts has a history of persecuting minorities

It's not really a matter of Ken asserting anything; it's a matter of fact.

Of course, those couple of Wikipedia paragraphs only scratch the surface (see further down for modern instances of right-wing bigotry), but suffice it to say; the Daily Mail's politics haven't changed a great deal since WWII.
posted by influx at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2006


As others have said, it is patently ridiculous that an unelected body can suspend an elected official from office over something as petty as this. And honestly, I'd side with pretty much anyone in an argument with the Standard or the even-more-odious Daily Mail. They are, to put it mildly, a bunch of James Blunts.
posted by MrMustard at 12:11 PM on February 24, 2006


As far as I know, the position of "Mayor of London" is something relatively new, which the central government did not want or support, which might account for the rather bizarre council which is able to suspend him. Given that the government is no fan of Red Ken, it's not all that surprising that they found a way to get him while using the rules they created to limit the mayor's power.

That's all a guess though, I don't know that much about it. Never stopped me from commenting before though.
posted by chaz at 12:20 PM on February 24, 2006


They are, to put it mildly, a bunch of James Blunts.

Well sh+t, that made me laugh.
posted by Sijeka at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2006


Wow Livingstone you should be a professional comedian because your jokes work on so many levels. TAKE A MONTH OFF TO COOL DOWN, MY MAN!
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:04 PM on February 24, 2006


creeky: why did he accept £33,000 to write a column for them that lasted 20 months?

Blip: yes, he wrote a column for The Standard, but why not try and get your own point of view to Londoners who are often fed reactionary lies?

Just to clarify: Ken wasn't writing a political column, he was writing a restaurant review. Here's a brief sample of his hard-hitting, controversial style:

When it came to starters, I was on a different planet with the heavenly seared scallops with onion puree. It was actually the little touch of wafer-thin onion rings that really finished it off perfectly. A friend's foie gras was described as the best they had ever tasted -- soft and pink with a melt-in-the-mouth texture and a beautiful buttery taste.

It's difficult to see how you could go wrong with sole fillets poached in champagne velouté with asparagus, oysters and caviar. Even the name is a mouthful. Beautifully presented on a large glass plate, the fish and the oysters combined to make a startlingly effective combination.


Personally I can't summon up much sympathy for either side in this ridiculous dispute. Livingstone and the Standard deserve each other.
posted by verstegan at 2:01 PM on February 24, 2006


Oooh, good news everyone! It seems if an elected politician says something people find offensive they can be suspended by an unelected, unaccountable, standards body! Somebody should try this tactic by reporting Tony Blair, who insults the British people by labelling Guantanamo an "anomaly". I find that sort of lily-livered "condemnation" just as offensive as anything Ken Livingstone might have said to a journalist from a bottom-feeding newspaper group.
posted by kaemaril at 4:08 PM on February 24, 2006


Associated Newspapers 4, Ken Livingstone 3, with plenty of time left to play ... Hopefully Ken will get one back on the Nazi sympathisers and appeasers of South Kensington pretty soon.

What makes Ken essential in the Starbucks of UK politics is that he is one of the few politicians with any power at all who thinks for himself, follows his own agenda and has honesty and integrity.

Sometimes that means that Ken can overstep the mark and express himself in terms that are more robust than is usal in UK politics.

What hasn't been mentioned so far is the previous incident between Livingstone and Associated Newspapers when they accused him of domestic violence which, given his politically correct views on the subject was massively embarrassing for him ...
posted by dickdotcom at 4:32 PM on February 24, 2006


Here's a really bizarre coincidence.
The suspension will run out on the 1st April - 20 years to the day since the GLC was abolished.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:28 PM on February 24, 2006


It is hard to fathom Livingstone's spirited defense of Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi (check out the link from the UK's Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association).

Sorry, but I call horseshit on this rather vile slur by association: Ken Livingstone has possibly done more for gay rights than any other politician in this country. Under his mayoralship, London was one of the first cities to create a register for Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples (against the shrill objections of self-same right-wing rags crying victim now). I know for a fact who I would rather be standing up for my rights.

I think it is clear that his support of the Muslim community is part of an ongoing campaign to open dialogue and is in no way indicative of any homophobia on his part. If I can understand that as a humanist gay male myself, I'm sure others will. I think come election time next year, Ken will once again be vindicated by the people who matter - Londoners - despite the vicious muck-racking campaign.
posted by axon at 7:10 AM on February 25, 2006


Ken rocks. I see the suspension has been put on hold pending an appeal. Plus, there has been a veritable shitstorm of features and letters supporting the guy and his stance. Oh yeah, and a bunch of predictable irrational bullshit whining form the "Knocking Israel = anti-semitism" morons. That shit has seriously got to start getting stomped on with size 14 jackboots. OH SHIT, WHAT A GIVEAWAY!

Relax, Zionist crazies. That was a JOKE.
posted by Decani at 7:55 AM on March 1, 2006


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