So he’s admitted it. Ken Livingstone has finally confirmed he believes Jews will not vote for him because they’re rich. Caught off-guard yesterday by a journalist from the Camden New Journal, Labour’s mayoral candidate finally dropped his false denial, and said “every psephological study I've seen in the 40 years I've been following politics shows the main factor that determines how people how vote is their income level. It varies, a lot of people vote against their own economic interest very often, but that is the main factor and it's not anti-Semitic to say that."
In Britain, in 2012, that is the pitch coming from a mainstream political candidate to his supporters: "The Jews are opposed to me – and us – because of their wealth." Just to be crystal clear on this point, here is what Livingstone said when first presented with the allegations, following a letter of protest from prominent members of the London Jewish community to Labour leader Ed Miliband: "[the letter is] a bit of electioneering from people who aren't terribly keen to see a Labour mayor." What people, Ken?
There is an old saying in politics that if you’re going to tell a lie, tell a huge one, because the sheer audacity of the statement will lend it credibility. Livingstone has just used a similar technique, though in this instance not to dissemble, but to denigrate.
The stereotype of the rich, socially divisive Jew is so offensive, so burdened by historical prejudice, that it is on a par with the ignorant but sexually virile black or the scheming, untrustworthy Oriental. And yet it has not been evoked by Nick Griffin or one of the English Defence League’s plastic stormtroopers, but Labour’s official candidate.
And what has the reaction been from the party that claims to be in the vanguard of the fight against prejudice? Silence. Actually, more shameful than silence. Tacit approval.
When Phil Woolas stood accused of playing the politics of race he was expelled from the party even before the completion of due legal or internal process. Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, wasted no time in showing him the door. Today her leader pats Livingstone on the back, and blithely assures Londoners that "I know Ken Livingstone well … He doesn't have a prejudiced bone in his body. He is attracting people from all faiths, all backgrounds, all religions to his campaign”.
Oh, please. As Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, who attended the meeting in question, said last week: “The case against Ken Livingstone is not that he is some crude racist. It is rather that, when it comes to this one group of Londoners and their predicaments, their hopes and anxieties, he simply doesn't care … he doesn't care what hurt he causes Jews.”
Of course he doesn’t. Ken Livingstone cares about one thing: Ken Livingstone. His sole interest in London is that he is allowed to run it. His sole interest in Londoners is that they constitute the Balkanised electorate that can deliver him the power he craves. And his sole interest in the Labour party is that it currently provides the vehicle through which he can achieve his ambition.
But we know this. We have always known it. And the Labour Party certainly knows it.
But Labour pretends to see no evil. There is no lie too great, no policy proposal too outlandish, no slur too offensive. The Livingstone tail continues to wag the Labour dog. Ken is not in fact Labour’s candidate; Labour is Ken’s candidate.
When Livingstone abused the Jewish journalist Oliver Finegold, he asked Finegold whether, like a former concentration camp guard, he was only doing his job because he got paid. I suspect what he meant to say was Feingold was falling back on the Nuremberg defence of “I was only obeying orders.”
Well that’s what the Labour Party is doing now. “Oh Ken is just Ken,” some people say. “He’s our candidate. We have to back him." Ken is Ken. The Labour Party’s very own Nuremberg defence.
Enough. Livingstone is indeed Labour’s candidate. And that is precisely why he and his comments should be condemned. In fact his grotesque stereotyping of the Jewish community should mean he is not only condemned, but stripped of his candidacy. But he won’t be. Ed Miliband is too weak. Labour’s army of youthful London activists too star-struck. Its MPs too keen on a quiet life.
So Labour will sit back, mute, as the hypocrisy and slurs continue to drive its campaign for the mayoralty. If Livingstone wins, there will be celebrations. If, as is likely, he loses, people from the leader down will shrug and say “Well, that was Ken being Ken.”
It isn’t Ken being Ken. It’s us being us. The shame is not Livingstone’s. It is Labour's.