Ken4London: Divide and Rule politics from Bradford to London

Respected voices on the left are coming out against Ken Livingstone and his Gallowayan tactics, yet the majority of the party remain silent. Our UK Political Editor Harry Cole asks why

Ken and George: Two peas in a rotten pod
Harry Cole
On 3 April 2012 13:38

When firebrand Labour MP turned 'TV star' Diane Abbott tweeted in January that “white people love to play divide and rule” she rightly provoked outrage and nearly lost her job. However it seems some of her ideological allies from the less sane sections of the British left have taken her words to heart.

While the Labour activists and vocal supporters have spent the past few days drifting between woe and anger at the victory of George “divide and rule” Galloway, one team have been very quiet about it - Ken Livingstone and his campaign to become Mayor of London once again.    

Pitting different groups in the community against each other is Galloway’s forté; many wishfully believed we had seen the last of it when Labour in Bethnal Green finally got their machine into gear and booted him out in 2010 (a result that had as much to do with Galloway’s laziness as it did about his opponent's tactics.) However he’s back and his campaign was remarkably similar to the divide and rule that Ken Livingstone is currently playing across London.

On Sunday Nick Cohen observed:

“Galloway and others on the far left believe that Muslims can replace the white working class that let them down so badly by refusing to follow their orders to seize power. In his hunt for a new revolutionary proletariat, Galloway's politics have become unashamedly communalist. If a conservative politician were to seek to appeal to whites in the same manner, the left would scream "racist" until they ran out of breath and the BBC would go on a war footing.”

Suddenly Ken Livingstone’s barmy speech in Finsbury Park Mosque - where he declared that he wanted to make London a 'beacon of Islam' - and his support for the extremist Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, looks more cold and calculated than before -- even more dangerous.

Where George Galloway’s runaway success in Blackburn Bradford was based upon a flash in the pan that caught the established parties off their guard, the problem for his ideological bedfellow, and Press TV colleague, Ken Livingstone is the length of his campaign.

While Galloway did not have enough days in his Bradford surge, and the city itself not having a Jewish community to alienate, you can be sure that he would have found a way to do so given more time.

Ken’s comments about and to Jewish people in London have been perceived as anti-Semitic -- a worst case scenario which is hard to prove one way or the other. But his actions speak far louder than his words. With the length of the London campaign, things are now palpably crumbling for Ken. Enough people are starting to notice, especially following the Bradford West by-election and they're beginning to stand up to his tactics to put a spanner in the works.

As Cohen concluded the other day:

“Labour's grubby leaders bite their tongues because they hope Livingstone will help restore their fortunes by flirting with the language of sectarian strife. Some of us have been warning for a while that they and the rest of the left cannot have it both ways.”

And it’s not just Cohen who is on the rampage against Ken. Jennifer Lipman the Deputy Comment Editor of the Jewish Chronicle sees through the tactic:

“It’s not about anti-Semitism. It's about an entire community feeling uncomfortable in a supposedly inclusive city, their concerns ignored because their political support isn't considered important.”

The equally eminent Martin Bright goes further in explaining how this strategy might actually win votes, but has the potential to backfire:

“In one sense, the strategy is entirely pragmatic, recognising that Mr Livingstone is a controversial figure who will never appeal to a broad range of voters. But the effect has been to set whole sections of the capital against each other: Muslim against Jew, inner city against suburb, working class against bourgeois. Thus, in a single poorly-judged gesture designed to attract a block of votes, the then mayor alienated Jews, women and members of the gay community across the capital, not to mention moderate Muslims and Labour voters turned off by identity politics.”

Guardian columnist (yes, pinch yourself) Jonathan Freedland has also been at the centre of the awakening on the left to Ken’s dirty tactics:

“The case against Ken Livingstone is not that he is some crude racist. It is rather that, when it comes to this one group of Londoners and their predicaments, their hopes and anxieties, he simply doesn't care. Consistently warm to some communities he doesn't care what hurt he causes Jews. He shows Jews, says one Labour parliamentarian, a "hard heart".”

Labour writer Dan Hodges, who used to work for Livingstone, hits the nail on the head and moves the issue on from individuals on the left simply being unable to vote for Ken and shifts the blame up the party ladder:

“When Livingstone abused the Jewish journalist Oliver Finegold, he asked Finegold whether, like a former concentration camp guard, he was only doing his job because he got paid. I suspect what he meant to say was Finegold was falling back on the Nuremberg defence of “I was only obeying orders.” Well that’s what the Labour Party is doing now. “Oh Ken is just Ken,” some people say. “He’s our candidate. We have to back him."  Ken is Ken. The Labour Party’s very own Nuremberg defence.”

Harsh words, and a powerful image, but bang on none the less. While the many respected writers and critics have seen the light, the refusal of many in the Labour Party to even acknowledge the problem is looking increasingly like a deliberate ostrich strategy. At least you have to hope it is, rather than widespread and deep party support for Ken’s view and tactics.

While many are starting to break ranks on the left and point out this blatantly obvious tactic from Ken, not enough pressure is being put on those that chose to remain silent, those that chose to turn a blind eye and those that will be to blame if Ken Livingstone is re-elected on May 3rd as a dangerous divider with his fingers on the purse strings.

There's just a month to the day until the polls open in London and those currently planning on voting for Ken need to have a long hard think about whether they are really willing to put their name to sectarian politics and sign up to a campaign that will make our capital are more divided place.

Many self proclaimed progressives and supporters of multiculturalism were rightly appalled by Galloway’s win yet say nothing and even support the same game from Ken. Words like 'hypocrisy' and 'opportunism' don’t quite do it justice. Instead, Labour are in the process of creating and ignoring a dark stain on their party’s history.

Harry Cole is the UK Political Editor for The Commentator. He also writes for the highly reputed 'Guido Fawkes blog' as their News Editor. He tweets at @MrHarryCole

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