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Our elder statesmen are disgraceful - and Ken Livingstone is the worst of the lot


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I have no sympathy with those who bang on about ‘decolonising’ thought and expression. I study philosophy; my sexless yet loving harem contains such things as ‘literature’ and ‘history’ and ‘science’. I know many Old White Men and find that they often have interesting things to say. I’d not be without them.

But my word, they can be obstinate fools as well. Those who now spend their days shuffling to and fro between the various broadcasting studios in London are not the best of their kind.

Michael Howard, for example. Darth Plagueis the Wise. Imposing himself upon the (quite sensitive) issue of Gibraltar, he decides to make a very silly comparison between The Rock and The Falklands, Spain and ‘another Spanish-speaking country.’ Because what you really want, before negotiations with the EU have even begun, is an old vampire threating one of its member states with war.

Annoyingly, he’s on my side of the Gibraltar argument, and the wider EU debate. A most unhelpful ally.

Not so another old Michael, this time Heseltine. Seldom a day goes by, it seems, without Tarzan appearing on our screens.

He was once an amusing figure. He strangled his mother’s Alsatian, you know. And in 1976, during a particularly fractious argument in the Commons, he took up the royal mace, seemingly with the intent to attack the honourable members opposite him. This constituted an ‘incident of grave disorder’ and Parliament had to be suspended.

But he has become something of a bore and a nuisance on the Europe question. He puts one in mind of Lord Marchmain, returning to Brideshead to die, and determined to be an inconvenience in the meantime. He seems to enjoy being an inconvenience.

This is an odd position for a Conservative to take, for it is quite radical and not at all conservative. But I must pay attention, for I am waiting for him to slip. Should he ever claim to respect the voters of this country -something to which he has hitherto never admitted - I shall be amongst the first to point out that he once thought, and presumably still thinks, that the people of this country shouldn’t even have a parliament.   

I’m not old enough to know whether my impression is correct, but it seems to me that once, in the long, long ago, the before-times, a political grandee threatening war against an ally, or attacking the leadership of his own party, would have seemed most remarkable. The sort of event which would dominate headlines and gain a monopoly on political gossip and conversation. John Major’s bastards spring to mind.

Yet this is no longer the case, for these outbursts are now mere footnotes to the events of the day; destined, it seems, to be trumped tomorrow by some other farce, something even more outstanding in its stupidity, something even more unpardonably tactless and nonsensical.

Ken Livingstone, in other words. Mr Livingstone has outdone Howard and Heseltine, and even managed to push Trump down the news agenda. This peculiar man has evolved into the apex predator of our times, the Bhagavad Gita’s destroyer of worlds.

Political etiquette has many unwritten rules and codes of behaviour. There are certain subjects which no sensible person should touch; if forced, they do so with the utmost care. Hitler, for example, causes a bit of trouble; Boris Johnson was upbraided by a whole platoon of offence-takers last year when he suggested that the creation of a European superstate had been on the late fuhrer’s agenda. The Guardian called this ‘ahistorical’, which of course means that it was perfectly true. Yet even Basil Fawlty grasped that little good is done by mentioning the war.

The Jewish question is another touchy subject. There is a reason the Arab-Israeli conflict gone more than a century without resolution; neither side is renowned for taking criticism generously, or inspiring temperance in their critics.

It is a bitter subject within the Labour Party, especially since the ascension of one Jeremy Corbyn. This is because, according some on the Left of the party, the Israeli lobby has allied with the Labour Right in an attempt to smear (and eventually destroy) Corbyn and his allies. Alternatively, according to those on the Right of the party, Corbyn’s cabal is full of rabidly anti-Semitic lunatic-leftists in cahoots with Hamas, and others of the Islamist persuasion.

Ken Livingstone is on the Left of the party. He is particularly sensitive to what he considers to be unfounded, malicious attacks on Corbyn, believing them to be orchestrated in an effort to affect regime change. So you might think that he’d be making a special effort to avoid controversy, so better to assist the Labour leadership. You might very well think that. You’d be entirely wrong.

To borrow from Malcolm Tucker, Ken Livingstone has blundered onto the scene like a clown running across a minefield. Not only has he embarked upon discussions of difficult issues with all the sensitivity of a necrophile at a funeral, he has actually managed to arrange the most difficult marriage one can imagine: Hitler and Zionism.

It began a year ago. Livingstone had come to the defense of Labour MP Naz Shah, who had been suspended by the party for a picture she shared on social media, showing the state of Israel superimposed on a map of the US. ‘Problem solved,’ was only the most tasteful of her remarks. It was put to Mr. Livingstone that Jews are understandably averse to the suggestion of forced relocations and deportations. One thing led to another, and the fateful words were uttered: Hitler, he said, ‘was supporting Zionism before he went mad and killed six million Jews.’

I will say nothing about this reading of history, which is peculiar and mostly – though not entirely – without basis in fact. I will say that it was extremely unwise and unhelpful to his cause and his allies. More unhelpful, though, is the fact that Mr. Livingstone seems not to care about the damage he is causing to his own party. Rather than do the sensible thing – apologise and lay low – he has repeated those claims, time after time after time, for a whole year. It has become a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Ken Livingstone will say something about Hitler.

He has blamed opponents within the party for spreading lies and wilfully misquoting him. This is half true, which is to say that they are spreading lies but they haven’t made up his quotes.

Were I Jewish, I think I would be appalled and offended by the antics of people like Tom Watson and John Mann; people who have played on the fears of Jewish people in order to score points in a squalid political game.. But I would also be offended that Mr. Livingstone has taken an extremely precarious series of links, made of them a highly questionable narrative, which has caused offense, and not only defended but propagated that view for no apparent reason besides arrogance, and his own political interests.

Suspending him for a year is a pathetic compromise which has already begun to fall apart. Mr. Livingstone has said he will not apologise, and has made a point of repeating his claims, and the allegations that political enemies have besmirched his reputation. This is a point on which he is committed; he is hardly likely to renege upon it in a year’s time. The likes of Tom Watson and Keir Starmer have said on record that they want him expelled, and now Jeremy Corbyn has announced another investigation into the comments made by Mr. Livingstone since the result of the first one was declared.

So, this is where we stand. War with Spain, Tarzan, and now Hitler the Zionist. It’s all quite ridiculous, and reflects poorly on the British character and the state of our politics. One almost admires Ken Livingstone’s resolve, and his comments regarding the politicking in the Labour Party are sound. But there comes a time when one must ask who it is that’s being served by said resolve. I get the unfortunate impression that the only person served by Ken Livingstone is Ken Livingstone.

I think we would all be grateful of he, like the other old codgers making silly remarks in public, displayed a little more of the calm and reasoned temperament of the elder statesmen they are all supposed to be.

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