Ken Livingstone: we were warned that Iraq "would make Britain a target"

In response to the Woolwich attack, the former Mayor of London says "we are still experiencing the dreadful truth of this warning".

In his statement on the Woolwich attack this morning, Boris Johnson pointedly noted that it was wrong "to link this murder to the actions of British foreign policy". Although the suspect filmed yesterday declared that it was the presence of British troops "in our lands" that motivated him, Johnson's words seemed unnecessary to me; no politician had suggested that such a link existed.

But in his response to the attack, Ken Livingstone has now done so. The former Mayor of London said:

In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, the security services warned the Prime minister, Tony Blair, that this would make Britain a target for terrorist attacks. We are still experiencing the dreadful truth of this warning.

In response, aside from noting the crude simplicity of blaming the Iraq war for yesterday's attack, one might note that Britain hasn't had troops in the country since 2011

Update: For context, here is Ken's full statement. 

The horrific and barbaric murder of a British soldier in Woolwich yesterday should be unreservedly condemned. My thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends following this brutal murder. I fully support the police in their efforts to discover whether the two individuals acted alone or whether an extremist group or cell is involved.

As Mayor of London, I served this city when it withstood the worst terrorist attack it has ever faced on the 7th July 2005. I am proud that Londoners of all faiths and none stood united, shoulder to shoulder against terrorism; our unity meant that there were no reprisal attacks against any one community in the immediate aftermath of those murderous bombings. Doing so again is the most effective way to defeat the terrorists' aims.

There will be those who will seek to scapegoat entire communities for this barbaric act. This is what terrorists want, and rely on. For people to feel fear, to turn on each other and to bring down the very essence of London, the most successful melting pot in the history of the world and the city of the free. Already, violent fascists have taken to the streets in Woolwich adding insult to the injury that community is feeling. Already there have been reprisal attacks against Mosques. We must not let this violent minority exploit this crime for their own hateful gains.

In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, the security services warned the Prime minister, Tony Blair, that this would make Britain a target for terrorist attacks. We are still experiencing the dreadful truth of this warning.

But if this city has demonstrated one thing, it has been the very example of how to withstand the ultimate aim of terrorism, which is to divide us. Just as Norway refused to be beaten into submission by a national fascist terrorist whose attack left 77 people dead, so too, London will continue to be a beacon to the world for all those who want to live in harmony and realise their potential. These are the very things that terrorism mortally opposes. I therefore call upon all political parties, the media and the people of London, to embody the strength of this city that has always been here. Terrorism has never broken London or its unity. It never will. It will fail.

 

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.