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New war of words erupts after Ken Livingstone's apology

Published 18/11/2015

Ken Livingstone is co-chairing Labour's defence review
Ken Livingstone is co-chairing Labour's defence review

A furious row at the top of the Labour Party over the appointment of Ken Livingstone to a key role on the party's defence review has erupted again with renewed bitterness.

Just hours after the former London mayor apologised "unreservedly" to shadow defence minister Kevan Jones for suggesting he needed "psychiatric help" the two men engaged in a public slanging match on live television.

The row was triggered with the disclosure that Mr Livingstone - a close ally of party leader Jeremy Corbyn and an opponent of the Trident nuclear deterrent - had been appointed as co-convenor of the defence review alongside shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle.

However neither Ms Eagle nor Mr Jones, her deputy - both of whom support Trident renewal - had been informed in advance and only learned of the move from reading social media.

Mr Jones responded by declaring that putting a known opponent of nuclear weapons as co-head of the defence review would undermine its credibility.

Mr Livingstone hit back, telling the Mirror the MP should "pop off" to see his GP.

"I think he might need some psychiatric help. He's obviously very depressed and disturbed," he said. "He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments."

That infuriated Mr Jones - who has spoken publicly about his past struggle with depression - who said the comments belonged in the "dark ages" and demanded an apology.

Initially Mr Livingstone refused insisting during a series of interviews that he had only spoken out after his fitness for the defence role was attacked by Mr Jones.

However, after a telephone call from Mr Corbyn, he put out a tweet saying that he "unreservedly" apologised to Mr Jones for his remarks.

"They should not have been made at all, let alone in this context," he said.

"I also make this apology because Jeremy is right to insist on a more civil politics and as a party we should take this seriously."

The apparent truce lasted just a few hours as the two men resumed hostilities in an extraordinary joint appearance on Channel 4 News.

In a series of increasingly heated exchanges, Mr Jones denounced Mr Livingstone's comments as "backward looking and offensive" saying they undermined efforts to end the stigma surrounding mental health issues..

Mr Livingstone in turn said he was offended by the suggestion that he lacked the experience to co-chair the defence review having being responsible for the civil defence of London for five years when he was head of the GLC.

The former mayor - who bizarrely referred to Mr Jones as "Jeremy" throughout the exchanges - said: "You provoked this row. You questioned my ability to do this job."

Mr Jones retorted: "So that excuses your grossly offensive language?" to which Mr Livingstone replied. "I thought your attack on me was grossly offensive."

The row once again highlighted the deep rift within the Labour Party between Mr Corbyn's supporters and a large swathe of the party's MPs.

Mr Livingstone's comments were widely criticised by mental health campaigners both from within the Labour Party and outside.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, which represents 100,000 mental health professionals, said they were "outrageous and offensive".

"It's irresponsible for leading politicians to be using such abusive language," he said.

Shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger said: "These comments should be treated as seriously as racism or sexism."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said the comments were "disrespectful" to everyone affected by mental ill health.

However former MP George Galloway said Mr Livingstone was the victim of a "witch-hunt".

"Tooth by tooth, claw by claw they are trying to defang JC (Jeremy Corbyn). I defend Ken," he said.

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