Ken Livingstone quits Labour over anti-Semitism row

The former London mayor said the continuing controversy around his comments linking Hitler and Zionism had become a distraction for Jeremy Corbyn.

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Ken Livingstone is to resign from the Labour Party, he has announced, admitting the row over his suspension for allegedly anti-Semitic comments had become a distraction. 

Livingstone, who was suspended by the party in April 2016 after he claimed Adolf Hitler had been a Zionist “before he went mad and killed six million Jews”, said the continuing controversy around his comments were harming the prospects of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. 

In a statement released via his website, he insisted that his comments had not been anti-Semitic but said he was “truly sorry” for the “offence and upset” his comments had caused within the Jewish community.

Speaking in a separate interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said he would continue campaigning for Corbyn to become prime minister and said he wished his critics “had gone and checked what I had said”.

Corbyn said Livingstone's decision was “sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics, but was the right thing to do”. His departure was near-universally welcomed by Labour MPs.

Livingstone said in a statement:

“After much consideration, I have decided to resign from the Labour party. 

“The ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour Party have become a distraction from the key political issue of our time – which is to replace a Tory government overseeing falling living standards and spiralling poverty, while starving our schools and the NHS of the vital resources they need.

“I also recognise that the way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that.”

In a veiled swipe at the party's handling of his case under the administration of former general secretary Iain McNicol, he added:

“Under Labour's new General Secretary I am sure there will be rapid action to expel anyone who genuinely has antisemitic views.

“I am loyal to the Labour party and to Jeremy Corbyn. However any further disciplinary action against me may drag on for months or even years, distracting attention from Jeremy's policies.

“I am therefore, with great sadness, leaving the Labour Party.”

Livingstone's decision to quit voluntarily brings to an end a protracted row within Labour and pre-empts his likely expulsion. His original suspension – imposed last April – had been due to expire last month, but was extended by the party in March. 

The Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies of British Jews had demanded he be kicked out of the party by July, while last week Shami Chakrabarti said there were no circumstances in which he should be readmitted to the party.  

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.