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Labour suspends Ken Livingstone in anti-Semitism MP row

Published 28/04/2016

Ken Livingstone
Ken Livingstone
Labour MP Naz Shah in the House of Commons

The Labour Party has suspended Ken Livingstone after the former London mayor defended the actions of an MP suspended over an anti-Semitism row.

Senior figures in the party, including Labour's current candidate for London mayor and two shadow cabinet ministers called for Mr Livingstone to be thrown out after he said Bradford West MP Naz Shah's actions were "over the top" but not anti-Semitic.

And one prominent Labour MP confronted Mr Livingstone - a member of the party's ruling National Executive Committee - outside a Westminster TV studio, accusing him of being a "Nazi apologist".

In a BBC Radio London interview, the former London mayor claimed Hitler had supported Zionism before the Holocaust and insisted he had never heard anyone within Labour be anti-Semitic.

Labour's mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan said: "Ken Livingstone's comments are appalling and inexcusable. There must be no place for this in our party."

And shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant told MPs: "I'm sick and tired of people trying to explain it away and, yes, I'm talking to you, Ken Livingstone."

Bassetlaw MP John Mann confronted Mr Livingstone at the Millbank broadcast studios as both arrived for interviews.

"You're a Nazi apologist, you're rewriting history. Go back and check what Hitler did - the book is called Mein Kampf," said Mr Mann, jabbing his finger at the former mayor as he walked up the stairs, his mobile phone clamped to his ear.

Mr Livingstone said Mr Mann had gone "completely over the top" and started "bellowing" at him while he was conducting a radio interview over the phone.

The former London mayor took to the airwaves to defend Ms Shah a day after her dramatic suspension and the launch of an investigation into allegedly anti-Semitic social media posts she made before becoming an MP.

The party is now undertaking an investigation into her actions, for which she offered a "wholehearted apology".

Mr Livingstone told BBC Radio London: "Her remarks were over the top but she is not anti-Semitic.

"I have been in the Labour Party for 40 years and I have never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic.

"I have heard a lot of criticism for the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians, but I have never heard someone be anti-Semitic."

He added: "When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

"But the simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians."

His comments came soon after Labour MP Rupa Huq warned against "trial by Twitter", saying Ms Shah's social media posts had been a "silly moment" that had happened before she was a public figure.

Ms Huq told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "It's easy to click those buttons - like, share - and I guess we have to be very, very careful what it is we are clicking on. It was at the time when she wasn't a public figure. It's just really unfortunate. If it is career-destroying it seems we are entering a phase where it is trial by Twitter."

Mr Livingstone's comments prompted a wave of calls for his suspension by prominent Labour MPs.

Asked if he should be suspended, shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger replied "Yes".

Former leadership contender Liz Kendall said: "We must not allow Labour's proud history of fighting racism and prejudice to be put at any further risk. Ken Livingstone should be suspended."

Labour former frontbencher John Woodcock backed Mr Khan, saying "this cannot go on".

He said: "Ken Livingstone must be suspended for this. He must actively be seeking suspension and notoriety with these remarks.

"Well said, Sadiq. Ken Livingstone is the chair of Labour's international policy commission - this cannot go on."

Mr Mann told Sky News: "I told him he needs help. The man's gone mad.

"He is peddling neo-Nazi conspiracy theories that even most neo-Nazis don't bother with these days.

"They are the most disgusting remarks, grossly calculated to offend, deliberately timed,. that I have ever heard from any Labour politician.

"Jeremy Corbyn needs to act and throw him out.

"The only person I've seen peddle this kind of rubbish in recent times is David Icke. That's who he is sat alongside as a great historian."

Mr Mann said the party "clearly does" have a wider problem with anti-Semitism.

"His suspension would help draw a line under it for the first time. Perhaps that's the chance now to really get to grips with the problem."

Labour MP Wes Streeting, who has been pushing the party to take action to stamp out anti-Semitic behaviour, said: "Ken Livingstone has form on anti-Semitism and has been tolerated for far too long. He should be suspended immediately.

"Decent Labour members need to decide how to respond to anti-Semitism within our ranks. Silence is complicity. We must all speak out."

Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North, said: "I've given Ken Livingstone a fool's pardon in recent months. But his comments on anti-Semitism are appalling. We can't allow this to go on."

Former frontbencher Stella Creasy ‏tweeted: "Not in my name #kenlivingstone - he should be suspended immediately without equivocation. Our #labourfamily has no place for such bigotry."

Labour MP Jess Phillips said: "Ken Livingstone must be suspended from the Labour Party."

Mr Mann's spat with Mr Livingstone came as the former mayor was being interviewed by James O'Brien on LBC radio. Listeners could clearly hear the Bassetlaw MP shouting in the background as Mr Livingstone talked.

Before his line went dead, Mr Livingstone told the interviewer: "I've got a violent MP threatening me, sorry about that."

When O'Brien asked him "Are you all right, Ken?", Livingstone replied: "It's just some MP going a bit over the top. I've got a problem here - another one of these Labour MPs going over the top who won't let me talk to you I'm afraid."

His line then went dead.

Labour frontbencher Chi Onwurah told the Press Association: "Ken's comments are unacceptable and there cannot be one rule for him and another for everyone else.

"Anti-Semitism is wrong, full stop, end of story. Naz Shah recognised that in her fulsome apology; Ken has actually made things worse by trying to justify comments she accepted had no justification."

Conservative MP Oliver Dowden said: "Labour have gone from indifference to denial over their anti-Semitism problem. Instead of turning a blind eye, they need to act and now. Jeremy Corbyn needs to suspend Ken Livingstone and stop sections of his party being apologists for anti-Semitism."

Mr Livingstone said he believed the row over his future would "calm down" over the next couple of days.

Asked if he was under pressure, he told BBC Two's Daily Politics: "Not really. I simply said what I believed to be true, which is that Naz is not anti-Semitic."

Pressed about his future on Labour's ruling NEC, he said: "Things erupt. They dominate the news for 24/48 hours. People calm down again when they go back and check what you have really said."

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg told Mr Livingstone his actions were "weird".

He said: "I never ever thought I would see the day that mainstream, well-known politicians like you would start raking over Hitler's views in a way that people would simply not understand.

"You are responsible for choosing your words carefully and not entering into this weird contorted maze which allows you to start talking about Hitler in the same breath as the Jewish community in Britain today."

Labour MP David Lammy said: "This is a very sad day for the Labour Party. I simply cannot reconcile being in the same party as someone with these views.

"I am appalled by Ken Livingstone's despicable comments. There is no place in our party for racism, bigotry or intolerance of any sort."

Mr Khan made clear he believed Mr Livingstone must be removed from the party, telling BBC Radio 5 Live: "He's got to be kicked out. These are so serious, these comments, so deeply offensive."

The chairman of the Momentum group of Corbyn supporters, Jon Lansman, said: "A period of silence from Ken Livingstone is overdue, especially on anti-Semitism, racism and Zionism. It's time he left politics altogether.

"Ken Livingstone achieved many good things for London and beyond. But all political lives end in failure and he should now depart voluntarily."

Shadow cabinet minister Jon Ashworth said: "Enough is enough. Ken Livingstone has crossed a line. He does not represent mainstream Labour members like me. He has to go."

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