Ken Livingstone’s resignation from the Labour Party is a major setback for the left. Like others Livingstone has been suspended from the Party for long periods, in his case for the past two years. This dilatory procedure has satisfied no-one. The right have demanded all the while that heads roll while victims like Ken have been ground down by the interminable waiting and uncertainty.
With his disciplinary process at last in sight Livingstone was informed that, if expelled as seemed likely, the legal appeals procedure would consume another two years of his time.
It should be emphasised that Labour’s disciplinary process contains not a whiff of ‘due process’ or ‘natural justice’. It is profoundly political. The right wing knew that, if they used their links with the mainstream media, they could put all but irresistible pressure on the Party’s National Constitutional Committee and the NEC to come up with a ‘guilty’ verdict, either on grounds of antisemitism or on the catch-all accusation of ‘bringing the Party into disrepute’.
It is clear that Ken has been worn down and has given up. This is understandable, but it is all the more important that we do not allow ourselves to be bulldozed by what is essentially a witch hunt. The former General Secretary Iain McNicol used the disciplinary procedures of the Labour Party as a kangaroo court against the left. There is no evidence that those procedures have been changed so far.
Ken is ‘accused’ of antisemitism when he argued that Hitler had supported Jews leaving Germany – including moving to Israel and he had arrived at a practical agreement with Zionist organisations on this. Some of the detail in Ken’s accusation was incorrect; Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, not 1932.
The main point is that this claim is not remotely antisemitic. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism begins, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” It is a form of racism.
The IHRA definition is fine as far as it goes, though some examples of their definition deliberately conflate antisemitism and criticism of policies of the state of Israel. For that reason we prefer the Jewish Voice for Labour definition: http://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/campaigns/the-definition-of-antisemitism/
In a party of more than half a million members it would be surprising if there were not the occasional antisemite. Where such people exit they should in the end be expelled like any other racist. But YouGov polls show antisemitism in Labour has actually reduced dramatically since Jeremy Corbyn became leader.
Those who accuse Labour Party members of antisemitism very often do so because of Corbyn's and other left wingers' support for the Palestinian cause. Their target is ultimately Jeremy Corbyn, a decades-long advocate of Palestinian rights. Their aim is to peel off and neutralise as many of his supporters as possible, and ultimately to go after Corbyn. Don’t forget his leadership is still under siege. In 2016 172 Labour MPs passed a vote of no confidence in him. Though his impressive show in the 2017 election made him invulnerable for the time being, they still lay low and plot what harm they can do to Corbyn and Labour.
When we consider self-publicists like John Mann and West Streeting accusing Ken of antisemitism, it is worth asking oneself, ‘What have these people ever done in their lives to advance the cause of Labour?’ Livingstone has done quite a lot.
He first came to prominence as leader of the Greater London Council in 1981. His radical ‘fare’s fair’ policy was knocked back by the courts, but a modified version dragged the London transport system into the twentieth century a little later. The GLC was seen as such a focus of opposition to Thatcher’s heartless Tory government that they moved to abolish it in 1987.
Throughout this period Livingstone experienced a relentless bombardment from the right wing press as a leader of the ‘loony left’. His crime? He was a staunch opponent of all forms of prejudice and a defender of minority rights.
In 2000 Livingstone was elected Mayor of London. He continued his transport reforms by introducing the oyster card and unsuccessfully opposing New Labour’s half-witted privatisation of London Underground. Ken was vindicated when Transport for London was forced to take over the collapsed private company Metronet in 2007 and then Tube Lines in 2010.
Livingstone has declared in his resignation message that his suspension had “become a distraction.” If he thinks resigning will end that, and will bring the antisemitic witch hunt to an end, he is mistaken. Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding friend and ally, said resigning “was the right thing to do.” If Jeremy thinks he has bought himself a quiet life he has got it wrong.
That is a fundamental misreading of the situation. Jeremy’s enemies’ appetites will only increase with eating. They will argue that they have won a battle and can go on to win the war. We must defend those unjustly suspended and expelled from the Labour Party. We have to fight for a genuinely impartial disciplinary process and oppose the kangaroo courts we are lumbered with at present. The only way we will get the Corbyn-led Labour government we want is not by conciliating and capitulating, but by defending what is right and remorselessly combating the lies and smears of our opponents.