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Ken Livingstone: An Attack On Voters' Rights

An Attack On Voters' Rights

I was elected mayor by the people of London and only they should have the power to remove me
An Open Letter From Ken Livingstone
Wednesday March 1, 2006
Published In The Guardian

At least one thing can be said about my possible suspension from office, which was put on hold by the high court yesterday: people from across the political spectrum have come to the defence of the basic democratic principle that those elected by the people should only be removed by the voters.

Last week, an adjudication tribunal found that some of my comments to an Evening Standard journalist had been "unnecessarily insensitive" and "offensive". But those are not grounds for overturning the decision of the voters of London. As far as I am aware, there is no law against "unnecessary insensitivity" or even "offensiveness" to journalists questioning you as you try to go home.

However, there has been an unstated allegation in this case: the implicit suggestion that my comment was anti-semitic. It is not explicitly stated because it cannot be substantiated. But the innuendo is used to give weight to charges otherwise too trivial to merit this gigantic fuss.

The truth is that I have appointed black, Asian and Jewish people to the highest levels of my administration and waged an unrelenting war on every manifestation of racism, anti-semitism and every other kind of discrimination. Since I have been mayor, racial and religiously motivated incidents in the capital have declined by more than a third. Of course, there is still a problem. A Jewish person is three times more likely to suffer a racist attack than a "white European". A person of African, Caribbean or south Asian descent is 10 times more likely to suffer a racist attack. And an Arab person is 11 times more likely to suffer a racist attack in London today. But significant progress has been made against the trend that is taking place elsewhere in Europe.

Associated Newspapers has always led the charge against the policies that confront racism and anti-semitism. It praised the Blackshirts in the 1930s, and admits that as recently as the retirement party of the last editor of the Daily Mail, two of its staff dressed in Nazi uniforms and were not asked to leave.

The Board of Deputies, which referred me to the Standards Board, has at all times protested that this issue is just about how I treated one reporter who happens to be Jewish. I have never believed a word of it. Some time before this incident was blown up out of all proportion, the Board of Deputies asked to meet me to urge me to tone down my views on the Israeli government.

For far too long the accusation of anti-semitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been. Even Tony Blair was recently described as a "common anti-semite" in an Israeli newspaper. Being Jewish is no defence from this charge. The famous Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim was recently denounced by an Israeli minister as "a real Jew hater, a real anti-semite". Antony Lerman, director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, has said that equating criticism of Israel policies with anti-semitism "drains the word anti-semitism of any useful meaning".

There is at least one positive clarification that has come out of this whole affair: Jon Benjamin, the director general of the Board of Deputies, stated last week: "We've never said the mayor is anti-semitic."

The fundamental issue in this whole affair is not whether or not I was "insensitive", it is the principle that those whom the people elect should only be removed by the people or because they have broken the law. It's because this fundamental principle is at stake that I am going to do everything in my power to have this attack on the democratic rights of Londoners overturned.

Ken Livingstone is mayor of London.

© Scoop Media

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