STATEMENT FROM KEN LIVINGSTONE
21 May 2018
After much consideration, I have decided to resign from the Labour Party.
The ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour Party have become a distraction from the key political issue of our time, namely getting rid of a Tory government that is overseeing falling living standards and spiralling poverty whilst starving our beloved public services such as schools and the NHS from the resources they need. The suspension has made it difficult for me to speak out on a range of issues I care about. Whilst I have no plan to run for elected office, I do wish to continue speaking up for social and international justice, and I believe that taking this course of action will best enable this.
We live in dangerous times and there are many issues I wish to speak up on and contribute my experience from running London to, from the need for real action to tackle climate change, to opposing Trump’s war-mongering, to the need to end austerity and invest in our future here in Britain.
I am not resigning because I accept the allegation that I have brought the Labour Party into disrepute – nor because I am in any way guilty of antisemitism (not that this has ever actually been put forward by the Labour Party as a reason for my suspension). I reject both allegations in the strongest terms.
I abhor antisemitism. Racism, including antisemitism, is a uniquely reactionary ideology, used to justify the greatest crimes in history. I believe that an ideology that starts by declaring one human being inferior to another is the downward spiral which ends at Auschwitz. I totally reject any such attitude, towards Jews, Muslims, black people or any other group. I believe that the Holocaust was the greatest racist crime of modern times.
The contribution of Jewish people to human civilisation and culture is extraordinary. You only have to think of giants such as Einstein, Freud and Marx to realise that human civilisation would be unrecognisably diminished without the contribution and achievements of Jewish people.
I have fought racism and antisemitism all my life. When I have served in public office I have not just given lip service but I have taken real action to tackle antisemitism. As Leader of the Greater London Council in the 1980s and as London Mayor in the 2000s, I ensured London’s government resourced the fight against racism and antisemitism, as well as supported Jewish community organisations and cultural events.
When I was Leader of the Greater London Council (GLC), it funded a number of Jewish community organisations, including the Jewish Social Responsibility Council, the Jewish Association for the Physically Handicapped, the Jewish Employment Action Group, the Redbridge Jewish Youth Association and Agudas Israel in Hackney.
As London Mayor, I hosted, took part in and promoted events to mark the annual Holocaust Memorial Day. I hosted the Anne Frank exhibition at City Hall and the lighting of the Menorah ceremonies for the Hanukkah festival. I organised, in partnership with Jewish cultural organisations, a Jewish festival in Trafalgar Square – the Simcha on the Square. I also supported the Jewish Museum’s exhibition on multicultural Britain and published several guides to Jewish London.
t is wrong to accuse someone of antisemitism because they make a historical argument about a part of the Zionist movement’s relations with the Nazi regime in the 1930s.
I believe that a major reason for the attacks on me is that I support the Palestinian people’s human rights, which can in no way be equated with being anti-Jewish. I have strongly criticised the policies of successive Israeli governments, and campaigned for Palestinian rights for decades as part of a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The brutality of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is renowned. In 2008-9 and 2014 several thousand Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed by Israel’s military assaults on Gaza. This violence continues to this day, as demonstrated when hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Gaza were gunned down by the Israeli army this month, with scores killed, including children. I am an opponent of the political regime that is responsible for these crimes, not the Jewish people.
I have been subject to numerous and hurtful smears and lies over the years. As Mr Justice Andrew Collins stated, in his judgement in the 2006 High Court of Justice case between myself and The Adjudication Panel for England,: ‘It could not sensibly be suggested that he [Ken Livingstone] is or ever has been antisemitic. He has not approved of some of the activities of the State of Israel and has made his views about that clear. But that has nothing to do with antisemitism.’
Antisemitism in Britain
Recently the results of two surveys of public attitudes to antisemitism were published by YouGov and by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. Both of these surveys showed that, unfortunately, there is a worrying persistence of antisemitic attitudes in Britain. The evidence is that it is much stronger on the right wing of politics than among Labour supporters and voters.
But antisemitism, an ideology with potentially genocidal results, must be fought wherever it is found, and I will continue to oppose it wherever it rears its head.
What is misguided is the cynical exploitation of the issue for the political end of attacking Jeremy Corbyn and others who are rightly concerned at the plight of the Palestinians who have been unjustly driven from their lands and kept in conditions of discrimination and repression for the past 70 years.
In Britain we desperately need a government that will implement policies along the lines of Labour’s popular manifesto at last year’s general election on which the party achieved widespread public support. The Tories and the newspaper barons are desperate that this should never happen.
My suspension from the Labour Party
As I resign from the Labour Party I would like to use this opportunity to set the record straight on what has happened over the last two years and my thoughts below should be read in conjunction with my defence from last year’s hearing, which can be read here.
Between the election of Jeremy as Leader in September 2015 and my suspension in April 2016 I was overwhelmed by media interviews to defend Jeremy from attacks by the media and some Labour MPs.
As part of this, I was often asked if Labour had a problem with antisemitism. I responded that I never heard or saw an antisemitic incident in a Labour Party meeting. I’d heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians, but I’d never heard anyone say anything antisemitic in a Labour Party meeting. I am sure however there are some antisemites in all parties, including Labour, and I am totally opposed to their views as with every other form of racism.
In April 2016, 80 Jewish Labour party members wrote to the Guardian saying ‘We do not accept that antisemitism is “rife” in the Labour party … The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism. We, personally, have not experienced any antisemitic prejudice in our dealings with Labour party colleagues.’
At 8.50am on 28th April 2016 I was asked by Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London to respond to a social media post by the Labour MP, Naz Shah, quoting Martin Luther King, that ‘what Hitler did was legal’. King’s point, obviously, having been that just because something is legal (talking in the context of racist segregation laws in the US in the 1960s) does not mean it is right. I saw no relevance between Hitler and Labour so I responded in under 40 words pointing out that in the 1930s Hitler had supported Jews leaving Germany – including moving to Israel and he had arrived at a practical agreement with Zionist organisations on this.
The Prime Minister of Israel had told the World Zionist Congress on 20th October 2015 that ‘Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews at the time. He wanted to expel the Jew.’
The 1930s Transfer Agreement, between the German Zionist organisation and the Nazi government, is a documented matter of historical fact. Anyone wishing to confirm that can for example access the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial website and read the study by Y’Faat Weiss: ‘The transfer agreement and boycott movement: a Jewish dilemma on the eve of the Holocaust.’
In the hours that immediately followed my interview with Vanessa Feltz no journalist asked me to comment on my statement. At Millbank at 11.45am I was confronted by Labour MP John Mann shouting that I was a ‘lying racist’ and a ‘disgusting Nazi apologist’.
This was followed by 39 Labour MPs demanding my suspension. The Guardian reported that David Abraham had likened me to Oswald Mosley; Wes Streeting tweeted that I ‘had form on antisemitism’; and other Labour MPs denounced my views as bigotry. On the Daily Politics Show John Mann claimed I had suggested that Hitler was a Zionist. On 29 April, Ian Austin MP tweeted the following ‘joke’: ‘This row about Ken Livingstone & Hitler is so unfair. One was a horrible extremist obsessed with Jews. The other was leader of Nazi Germany.’
These accusations are utterly false. Had I said Hitler was a Zionist I would have apologised, as it is an evidently ridiculous idea. Hitler loathed Jews all his life and I would never suggest he was ‘a Zionist’. I simply stated the historical fact that Hitler was, for his own loathsome reasons, prepared to do a deal with Zionists to remove Jews from Germany.
At 1.20pm I received an email stating that I had been suspended. No one from the Labour Party General Secretary’s office phoned to check what I had said. My suspension was the lead story on the front pages the following day distracting from the local election, at a time when Jeremy’s critics were talking of a leadership challenge if we did badly in the elections. Fortunately, Labour won the mayoral election in London with a strong result.
My suspension gave credibility to the lie that my statement about Zionism was antisemitic. At the 2016 House of Commons Home Affairs Committee antisemitism enquiry, the Chairman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews suggested to the Committee that I had said that Zionists were ‘like Nazis’ and that ‘Hitler was a Zionist’ – both these notions are factually incorrect and are not statements I have ever made as I totally disagree with them.
Hundreds of people stopped me on the street to show their support and express their dismay at the media smears against me. Many of these people were Jewish. I had not experienced such a wave of support since the 2000 mayoral election.
My interview by the Labour Party Disputes and Disciplinary Panel was delayed by seven weeks thus preventing me standing for the NEC.
I handed evidence to the chair which showed what I said was true, but she replied she was not interested in history, and was determined to avoid what I said and whether it was true. In their report to the NEC there was no reference to the claim that ‘Hitler was a Zionist’ nor did it admit what I had said was true. It was suggested I considered Zionism was equivalent to Nazism and that I ‘raised Hitler as a defence’ – all entirely untrue. That this malign report was submitted to the NEC without my being allowed to see it and challenge it is a violation of justice.
It is quite clear that this campaign against me has nothing to do with antisemitism, for which no evidence has been produced, to the point that the legal representative for the Labour Party at my NCC hearing did not accuse me of it. This campaign is in fact because of my criticism of the massacres and discriminatory actions carried out by the leaders of the Israeli state and is using the pretext of my accurate statement of historical fact, that a practical agreement was arrived at between Hitler and some Zionists in the 1930s.
My hearing at the NCC was delayed for 11 months until it coincided with the launch of our 2017 local elections campaign. The barrister representing the Labour Party stated I was not antisemitic and no one claimed I had said Hitler was a Zionist even though that precise allegation is repeated by my detractors to this day. Instead it was claimed I was wrong to say that Labour MP Naz Shah’s social media posts were not antisemitic. One post showed Israel as a 51st state in the USA. This had also been posted by Norman Finklestein – who considered it a joke. A second post was a quote from Martin Luther King saying what Hitler did was legal.
I was also told I caused offence using the word ‘support’ when I said Hitler supported Zionism. However, the respected professor of Holocaust studies, Francis Nicosia, in his book Zionism and Antisemitism in Nazi Germany, said ‘there was almost unanimous support in German government and Nazi party circles for promoting Zionism among German Jews.’ Nicosia detailed that support in his December 1978 article ‘Zionism in National Socialist Jewish Policy in Germany, 1933-39’ (University of Chicago, Journal of Modern History).
Before the NCC hearing the Jewish News website carried an opinion piece by David Wolchover: ‘Kicking out Ken Livingstone for Hitler remark would be a bad mistake,’ stating ‘he was widely misquoted as claiming that Hitler was a Zionist but he has rightly emphasized that what he actually said was that Hitler supported Zionism.’ The article concludes with ‘Holocaust denial has alarmingly been on the increase among a vast new generation of young people… should we not be thankful for small mercies, that an influential and likeable public figure… has nonetheless reminded them that the Holocaust is a historical fact.’
However, I recognise the fact that the way I expressed a historical point caused real offence and upset in the Jewish community, and I deeply regret that.
I told the panel that in my years as Mayor of London antisemitic attacks in London had halved, whereas under Boris Johnson they had more than doubled. Just as at the House of Commons enquiry (see my submission to the Select Committee here and further submission here) no one wanted to question why this had happened or to give me the opportunity to further elaborate on my record as an anti-racist politician.
Everyone expected the panel to expel me and I said if they did I would go for judicial review. The decision to merely extend my suspension was a shock but I suspect their lawyers warned I would win and it would be embarrassing for the NCC to have to explain to a judge why I was expelled for stating a historical fact whilst Labour MPs who libelled me faced no disciplinary action.
I appeared on that evening’s Newsnight to say that we should put this behind us, concentrate on the local elections and that I would be doing no more interviews after this. Unfortunately, Labour MP Wes Streeting turned up denouncing the decision thus re-opening the issue. In the following days, over 100 Labour MPs ensured it continued to distract attention from our local campaign. This led to my being besieged by the media demanding interviews and further distracted from the local elections. No action was taken against the MPs who had denounced the NCC decision.
In the 11 months the party spent investigating this issue no evidence was found to confirm any allegation of antisemitism against me, which is why at the NCC hearing this accusation was never made. This was never about antisemitism but about undermining Jeremy.
Had my hearing been open to press and public it would have been difficult for MPs to denounce the decision. In future, our disciplinary procedures should incorporate Britain’s legal principles and basic human rights by implementing the changes in our disciplinary procedures proposed in Shami Chakrabarti’s report. We also need to recognise that spurious claims of antisemitism undermine the importance of tackling genuine antisemitism.
Labour needs to stop its party bureaucracy wasting so much time investigating its membership. The Information Commissioners Office ruled that Labour’s HQ should not trawl through members’ social media accounts for disciplinary purposes as this is a breach of the Data Protection Act. But in the run-up to Jeremy’s second leadership victory the bureaucracy wasted a vast amount of time investigating 70,000 Labour members for suspension. Those thousands of hours should have been spent preparing for the general election. So, I would urge Labour to stop its staff wasting their time in this way and instead concentrate on preparing for the next election.
If the Tories had lost their seven most marginal seats (which they held by a mere 2,227 votes) in the 2017 General Election, Teresa May would not have her working majority with the DUP and Jeremy could be in Downing Street. Had our party not wasted so much time with internal schisms we could have won more than another seven seats from the Tories.
It is unbelievable that over two years have passed without this issue being resolved. On just one day in April this year I saw the false claim that I had said Hitler was a Zionist repeated by several newspapers.
Under Labour’s new General Secretary I am sure there will be rapid action to expel anyone who genuinely has antisemitic views, but it is important too that false allegations made about others are rebutted.
Throughout my political career I have become used to bogus attacks on my character as a way of trying to silence and discredit me. On the day I became Leader of the GLC, Margaret Thatcher said I intended to impose on Londoners a communist tyranny like those of Eastern Europe. When we cut bus and tube fares the Daily Mail warned that this was the first step to a full communist economy. I have also been accused corruption, violence, and tax dodging. Not one of these allegations is true, which is why they have never been proved.
There is nothing new in all of this. At the 1945 general election the Tories claimed that a Labour government would create a British version of the Gestapo, and when President Roosevelt introduced benefits to the unemployed he was accused of taking the first step toward communism. Whilst we will continue to have the Tories and the Tory press carry on with their lies and smears our membership have the right to expect that Labour MPs should not repeat those smears unless they have evidence that they are true.
In the run up to this year’s local elections and since numerous newspapers and individuals have continued to smear me as an antisemite. It is now being widely reported that I am to face another disciplinary hearing. This can only be to appease those who were not satisfied with the severity of the penalty imposed on me at the first hearing. I had no right of appeal, but, evidently, my detractors have unlimited rights of prosecution until they are satisfied, which I suspect they will not be unless and until the prospect of a Labour government under Jeremy has been defeated.
Throughout this career, my family and friends have given me every support, for which I am sincerely grateful. I am also grateful to the thousands of Labour members and supporters who supported me during last year’s hearing through signing petitions and sharing social media posts, and all those labour movement activists who have supported me throughout the last decades.
I no longer have the responsibilities of an elected politician. However, I do have the responsibilities of a husband and a parent of young children. It would be unfair for my wife and children to continue to be impacted by the cynical and worthless campaign that has been mounted against me in recent years.
The party must change urgently a process where prior to due process taking place leading figures in the party declare people guilty in the media and pre-empt the decision of the relevant bodies.
I also recognise that the way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that.
I am loyal to the Labour party and to Jeremy. However any further disciplinary action against me may drag on for months or even years, distracting attention from Jeremy’s policies.
I am therefore, with great sadness, leaving the Labour Party.
We desperately need an end to Tory rule, and a Jeremy Corbyn-led government to transform Britain and end austerity. I will continue to work to this end, and I thank all those who share this aim and who have supported me in my own political career.
is a former London Mayor and life-long campaigner against racism in all its forms.