Labour somehow always contrives to design a worse outcome than seems possible. After a lengthy hearing, Ken Livingstone has been suspended from holding party office for a further year over his comments on Hitler and Zionism, rather than expelled. Though Labour’s National Constitutional Committee concluded that Livingstone had breached the party’s rules on three counts, it concluded that a two-year suspension (until 27 April 2018 – one year having already been served) was sufficient sanction. The former Mayor of London remains a Labour member but will be barred from “holding office and representation” (he was a National Executive Committee member until last year).
It’s an outcome that pleases no one but Jewish groups and Labour MPs are most outraged at the lax treatment of Jeremy Corbyn’s decades-long ally. Former shadow cabinet minister Michael Dugher told me: “Ken Livingstone should be kicked out for good. Years of supposed long service and closeness to the leadership do not entitle you to a free pass when it comes to anti-Semitism. The Labour have spent 12 months investigating what to every sensible person is an open-and-shut case. This looks like an embarrassing fudge. The Jewish Board of Deputies said it was anti-Semitism, as did the Holocaust Education Trust, the Jewish Labour Movement and the Chief Rabbi. Is the party really saying it knows more about anti-Semitism than the Chief Rabbi? The current reluctance of the party to apparently take swift and severe action against Livingstone does us no credit whatsoever.”
Joe Glasman, the Head of Political and Government Investigations at the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said: “Ken Livingstone has been portraying Jews as Nazis for decades. His claim that Hitler acted in support of Zionism, along with his constant repetition of that distortion, has been a repulsive spectacle. We felt sure that the Labour Party, blighted by antisemitism as it is, would reclaim some of its former self and expel him. Labour has long had a moral duty to expel Ken Livingstone, but instead it has allowed his vile views to gain support in the Party.
“Today’s verdict confirms our worst fears: that it is possible to husband and broadcast such repellant beliefs and still remain a Labour Party member has shocked even us. This surely represents the last of the death throes of the Labour Party’s long relationship with the Jewish community. The Labour Party had this one last chance to prove that it is not beyond salvation. Today’s decision is the party’s final act of brazen, painful betrayal.”
As throughout the dispute, Livingstone has given no ground, declaring that “it is important that the Labour Party should not expel or suspend people for telling the truth.” Last year, he claimed Hitler was “supporting Zionism” before “he went mad and killed six million Jews.”
The political consequence of today’s decision will be to further diminish the paltry support Labour attracts from Jewish voters. An MP said: “Years from now, the foul stench of anti-Semitism will become one of the defining characteristics of the Jeremy Corbyn era in the Labour Party. A shameful and totally unforgivable chapter in our history.”