Livingstone blames ’embittered Blairites’ for outcry on anti-Semitic remarks

Former mayor of London, suspended for saying Hitler supported Zionism, says he would not have made the comment if he’d known it would be made into ‘mega-issue’

Ken Livingstone speaking on April 30, 2016 to London radio station LBC (screen capture: Twitter)
Ken Livingstone speaking on April 30, 2016 to London radio station LBC (screen capture: Twitter)

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone, suspended from Britain’s Labour party for saying this week that Hitler supported Zionism before “he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews,” on Saturday accused “embittered old Blairites” for inflating the row over his remarks.

“I was prepared to step up and defend [MP] Naz Shah, because although what she said was completely over the top and wrong, I don’t believe she’s anti-Semitic,” said Livingstone, whose remarks Thursday on Hitler came as he supported Shah following her own suspension for anti-Semitic Facebook posts made before her 2015 election to parliament.

“[W]hen Ed Miliband was leader of the party, the party asked me would I do an endorsement of her, which I was happy to do and so on,” Livingstone said in an interview on London radio station LBC. “I wouldn’t have done that if I thought she was anti-Semitic and if I’d have known the way that [Labour MP] Wes Streeting and all these embittered old Blairites turned this into a mega-issue, I wouldn’t have said it.”

Livingstone was a vocal critic of Tony Blair, whose 1994 election as Labour leader saw the party move towards the center. Streeting, who is vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, told The Times of Israel this week that as the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn “has a responsibility to take anti-Semitism seriously — and to stamp on it.”

The former mayor again defended his comments — saying that as an Israel supporter Streeting “must know the history of the 1930s” — despite outrage in Britain and historians such as Roger Moorhouse and Andrew Roberts debunking his claims.

“Wes Streeting asked me to come and campaign for him, he knows I’m not anti-Semitic,” Livingstone said. “He also, as one of the most devoted supporters of Israel in parliament, must know the history of the 1930s, and I think its frankly dishonest that he and those group of MPs around him pushed this issue up to dominating the headlines and keeping attention away from important [issues].”

Naz Shah speaks in the House of Commons, April 27, 2016 (Guardian screenshot)
Naz Shah speaks in the House of Commons, April 27, 2016 (Guardian screenshot)

Interviewer David Mellor, a former Conservative MP, asked Livingstone whether he thought his remarks had harmed the party ahead of the crucial local elections next week. Livingstone, in response, classed the furor over his remarks as “nonsense.”

“Clearly no one’s happy about all this,” the former mayor said, “when I finish this program, I’ll walk out the door, I’ll answer any questions that journalists are asking out there, but after that I’m not doing any more interviews on this because the Labour Party’s got to get away from all this nonsense and back to getting the vote out on Thursday.”

Blair’s former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, mocked Livingstone’s remarks, writing on Twitter on Saturday that if there were a “Blairite plot I think I’d know about it.” He added: “Why can’t people just accept they said/did stupid stuff?”

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