Fisking Owen Jones on Ken Livingstone

Owen Jones is wrong on Ken Livingstone on just about every point. Time he was fisked

A socialist...with champagne? Stick it on Ken's tab
Andrew Gibson
On 19 April 2012 09:51

With Johann Hari spending more time with his cuttings you might think we adults could achieve some peace and quiet. But Owen Jones keeps disturbing us with his ‘look-at-me’ articles. Time he was fisked. Let’s take a look at one of his latest columns in The Independent (“The 1 per cent have an interest in demonising Ken Livingstone”)

Owen starts:

Being on the left in public life means automatically inviting ridicule and venom.

If a 27-year old insists that he knows best how to run the country then he had better be bright or he will indeed invite ridicule. A good place for him to start is to know the difference between a flow of income and a stock of wealth.      

While only just over a fifth of eligible voters opted for the Conservatives at the last election,

…Making the Conservatives the UK’s most popular political party

 most of our media is firmly in the right-wing camp.

…Except the Independent, Guardian, Mirror, and BBC – the last of which receives a huge subsidy deriving from a regressive poll tax.  

Hacks and hit blogs pounce on every gaffe and any plausible example of a personal failing that clash with left-wing beliefs: The right relish nothing more than exposing a socialist hypocrite.

Read Owen Jones exposing, with relish, a socialist “hypocrite” here.

Even a left-winger who is as close to unimpeachable as is humanly possible can expect a kicking, and Ken Livingstone is certainly not that. He dominated London politics before I was even born, giving him ample time to amass a wide array of enemies. His refusal to stick to the bland script of the modern politician wins support for independent-mindedness, but it has also caused offence.

Livingstone is Cricklewood’s blandest resident. His predictable retail politics and occasional insults don’t make him a free-thinker any more than a contrived glottal stop makes Ed Miliband “street”.Nor, pace Jones, was Livingstone a success in the 1980s. Livingstone was on the wrong and losing side of pretty much every political issue, local or national. Privatisation, contracting out, trade union reform, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – Livingstone called them all wrong.

The extremism of Livingstone was a boon to Mrs Thatcher’s re-election. Indeed, neither Jones nor Livingstone can explain the “Stansgate Paradox” – the more the Labour Party claims to be on the side of “the people”, the heavier it loses elections.

The people who knew Livingstone best like him least. He has fallen out with (now ‘former’) comrades in Lambeth, Brent, the GLC, and the parliamentary Labour Party. It’s tempting to say that Livingstone is his “own worst enemy”, but not while Dan Hodges is alive he ain’t.  

He was right to take a stand on massive tax avoidance by the wealthy at a time when chunks of the welfare state are being hacked away, and wrong not to order his accountant to avoid the many tax loopholes available for the well-to-do.

But it's clear that all-out war is now being waged against Ken.

No it isn’t. Livingstone’s claims are being subjected to scrutiny during an election campaign.   

A display of human emotion at his campaign video launch led to a tirade of abuse from the obsessive, no-holds-barred right-wing Twittersphere…

Narcissism is not a “human emotion”: it is a character flaw.

As election day approaches, the chorus of abuse gets ever more shrill.

The Monbiot Gambit: calling for reason while being unreasonable oneself. Complaining of venom and “all-out war” is shrill.

The Get Ken coalition includes right-wing hacks like …Andrew Gilligan, who is all but obsessed with Ken. He accuses Ken of having "links with Muslim extremists", … despite Gilligan himself being a former presenter on Iran's state-funded Press TV, which says all you need to know about Ken's most aggressive assailants.

All we “need to know” about Ken’s “assailants” is whether the substance of their criticisms is correct or not. Does Livingstone have “links with Muslim extremists”; yes or no?

And then there are Blairite ultras in Ken's own party, savaging him on websites such as Labour Uncut, who have never forgiven him for winning two major elections precisely by rejecting the New Labour formula…

Cognitive dissonance: Owen can’t accept that Livingstone really did lose the 2008 election.  

Some of the smears thrown at Ken have veered between the ridiculous and the offensive. The award for chutzpah has to go to Tories who have accused him of homophobia. Ken may be straight, but he is Britain's equivalent of another local government campaigner for gay rights, 1970s US politician Harvey Milk.

Judging Livingstone by his actions, gay rights and Ireland were “then”: The extreme fringe of Islamism is “now”.

When Ken made the case for gay rights as leader of the GLC in the early 1980s, he was courageous indeed: at the time, two-thirds of the population thought homosexuality was wrong…

True. He was politically courageous – then – on that point. But Jones dodges the issue. There are still many in London who “think homosexuality is wrong”: Livingstone courts them.

Owen wants to write the McCartney biography and make it all about The Beatles: but it is dishonest to forget Wings.

Contrast to Boris Johnson, who lauded Section 28 on the basis that "we don't want our children being taught some rubbish about homosexual marriage being the same as normal marriage", referred to "pulpit poofs" in the Church, and suggested that if two men could tie the knot, why not "three men and a dog"?… few journalists mention his slights against black people: all that talk of "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles", or slamming the Macpherson Inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence case for "hysteria".

These laboured criticisms have been answered elsewhere. Here, for example. But the answers will never be accepted: the left don’t think Boris is extreme; they desperately want him to be extreme. It’s Boris’ moderation that really gets to them.

On gay rights, social mores have evolved, thanks to the campaigning of many. This “many” includes Margaret Thatcher who voted in the 1960s (pre-Livingstone) to decriminalise homosexuality. Owen never dwells on Thatcher’s pro-gay rights stance of years ago as he does for Livingstone’s; that would upset his juvenile, Manichean narrative.

Boris’ record is similarly skewed by Jones. Jones’s fears might have had resonance with some voters in 2008. But Johnson has been in office now for four years, and he is clearly a unifier who seeks to serve all Londoners.              

The same standards are certainly not applied to Ken. I never dismiss accusations of bigotry against Jews lightly… In Ken's case, the accusation was bandied around recently because – when asked about an alleged lack of Jewish support – he suggested that Jewish voters would divide in allegiance much as the rest of the electorate, with those who were wealthier opting for Boris. His opponents cynically misconstrued this as Ken reviving that old anti-Semitic caricature of the "wealthy Jew"…

The Left usually assert that if someone “perceives” themselves to be a victim of racism, then they “are” a victim of racism. Yet this apparently does not apply when it comes to persistent concern about Livingstone among London Jews. Why the different rules?  

Not that Boris hasn't found his own persecuted minority to champion: the bankers, who he suggests are treated like "lepers". And he has his own crusade againstinjustice: namely the 50p tax, which only affected the top 1 per cent (including himself). If the wealthiest 1 per cent were to grow arms, legs, foppish hair and a manufactured bumbling demeanour, it would be Boris.

More venom and shrillness of the sort Jones poses to be against. Jones hasn’t the maturity to accept that it is possible for people of good will to disagree about behavioural economics and the likely outcomes of tax policy.

When Livingstone’s tax affairs are mentioned, Labour goes loftier than a Lambeth council tax bill and insist that we “stick to the issues”. Yet they themselves dwell on income tax cuts for “bankers”, which is not within the direct Mayoral remit.

And then there are the issues which…have been driven off the agenda. We are in the midst of a housing crisis, which is why Ken's pledge to introduce a London Living Rent is so important…

Back to loftiness again…

Does Jones believe this guff? On Livingstone’s analysis, I and many others would save hundreds of pounds on my rent, yet there is no mechanism proposed that would allow this to happen. It is retail politics at its worst.

What’s the difference between China’s interior and a Labour manifesto? Answer: The Labour manifesto has more panders.

There is the promise to reverse soaring travel fares at a time when Londoners face the biggest drop in living standards since the 1920s.

The panders are breeding!

Livingstone has made this “promise” twice before – and broke it.

Jones is so keen that “his team wins” that he doesn’t bother to ask why the auditors, the TfL directors, the Johnson administration and the Channel 4 fact-checkers all missed a spare few hundred million pounds down the back of the TfL sofa.     

And then there's the promise to reinstate the Educational Maintenance Allowance for poor sixth-form kids…

I am starting to think Jones “wants” to be gulled.

If Ken loses, it will be a victory for a right-wing machine, its appetite whetted and ready to shred the next target….But while Millionaires' Row will have its champion back in City Hall, ordinary Londoners will be hit by ever-rising rents and fares…

Jones looks in the crystal ball and – gasp! Would you believe it! – espies a wicked Tory future. Yet no mention of Livingstone’s huge tax rises that cost the working poor dear and that achieved little more than give Livingstone a budget commensurate with the size of his ego. When you cut Jones’ adolescent pap and look at the record, it is no wonder that Livingstone was moved to tears. We all should be.

(The Jones article is abridged for space. Click the link for the full article.) 

Andrew Gibson is an entrepreneur, and political activist in Lambeth, London

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