Dead Men Left

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Not an act of contrition

Ken Livingstone's statement, lightly edited highlights:

A week ago I said it was not my intention to apologise to the journalist from Daily Mail group or his employers. Upon a further week of reflection in which I have read everything written in the press about this controversy and after considerable debate with many Londoners I have decided to stand by that position. There will therefore be no apology or expression of regret to the Daily Mail group...

To the Daily Mail group I say that no-one in Britain is less qualified than they to complain about anti-semitism. Their papers were not, as some have reported, guilty of "a brief flirtation" with Adolf Hitler in the l930s. In truth these papers were the leading advocates of anti-semitism in Britain for half a century.

Beginning a hundred years ago with their campaign to stop Jewish refugees fleeing to Britain from Russia they carried on right the way through the rise of Hitler and even after the start of World War II still felt free to peddle the lie that Germany's Jews had brought the holocaust upon themselves. I have set out in detail the record of the Daily Mail group in my formal response to the London Assembly.

Whilst it is true the Mail group no longer smears Jews as bringing crime and disease to the UK it is only because they have moved on. After a decade of pandering to racism against our citizens of Black and Irish origin they have moved on and now describe asylum seekers and Muslims in similar terms. For the Mail group the victims may change but the intolerance, hatred and fear pervade every issue of the papers.

What was the motive of the Mail group in whipping up this media fire storm? If insulted why did the Daily Mail group journalist or the editor of the Evening Standard not get in touch and say they thought I had gone too far? If the Daily Mail group journalist had expressed regret for his behaviour on the street I would have been happy to withdraw my comments and assure him I bore him no hard feelings...

Over the last two weeks my main concern has been that many Jewish Londoners have been disturbed by this whipped up row. I do not equate the actions of one reporter with the total abdication of responsibility shown by those who were complicit to whatever degree in the horrors of the holocaust. But I do believe that abdicating responsibility for one’s actions by the excuse that “I am only doing my job” is the thin end of the immoral wedge that at its other extreme leads to the crimes and horrors of Auschwitz, Rwanda and Bosnia.

I have been deeply affected by the concern of Jewish people in particular that my comments downplayed the horror and magnitude of the holocaust. I wish to say to those Londoners that my words were not intended to cause such offence and that my view remains that the holocaust against the Jews is the greatest racial crime of the 20 th century.

Something that has been disgraceful over these past two weeks has been the way in which the Daily Mail group have worked hand in glove with the chair of the London Assembly and his Conservative colleagues. Betraying his wider political agenda Brian Coleman has in his many appearances tried to widen this issue to include my views about the policies of the Israeli government.

Given Assembly member Coleman’s own record of disparaging Irish travellers, Somalis, foreign students and participants at the Notting Hill Carnival his new found interest in the sensitivities of London’s minorities is impossible to believe...

Clearly Londoners share my view. I have lost count of the number of times I have been approached by Londoners over the last two weeks and have been urged very forcefully not to apologise. Since this row erupted we have received over 1500 letters and emails from the public. 74 per cent have expressed their support for me, with 26 per cent against—a margin of support of three to one.

Not for the first time in my years in public life the views of ordinary people on the street are overwhelmingly at odds with much of the media.