Five Years, what a surprise.
As the news broke of Ken Livingstone’s suspension, the reaction of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) was inevitable with their open letter stating their intent to make the maximum mileage out of the views of someone whose days in office are behind him. However one key signature remains missing from this open letter, namely that of a certain Peter Mason, the JLM’s National Secretary and, by some twist of fate, a member of the National Constitutional Committee that decided Livingstone’s fate last week.
Only in this case he wasn’t. In his piece for Labour List, published last Friday whilst the media focus diverted from Livingstone to Syria, Mason revealed that he had withdrawn from the Livingstone case as he felt as if he was ‘conflicted and pre-determined’ in his view that ‘Livingstone has sought to offend British Jews’. Mason himself states that the NCC decision to suspend, rather than expel, Livingstone was ‘not a proportionate punishment’.
Mason’s decision to withdraw from the NCC raises two issues. The first is whether anyone involved in the NCC or the wider Labour Party is not ‘conflicted and pre-determined’ where Livingstone is concerned. The JLM and Labour Friends of Israel are clear in their views, but Livingstone also has his allies. There is no middle ground here. As Mason states at the start of his piece ‘consensus is increasingly rare within the Labour movement these days’.
Secondly, Mason refers to press allegations that some NCC panel members ‘went into this hearing with their minds already made up to save (Livingstone)’. If this was the case would it not make sense for Mason to serve in the panel for the next NCC hearing to redress the balance?
As it is, Mason has stated he would ‘have no involvement as an NCC member in Livingstone’s case’ without stating explicitly that anyone else on the NCC (or perhaps the NEC if they were obliged to intervene) asked him to withdraw from this case based on his JLM connection. Instead he would continue to question the NCC’s integrity (probably if the NCC does not expel Livingstone).
But why shout from the side-lines when you can influence the outcome? The answer may well lie in Mason’s reference to events reported in the Jewish Chronicle on 21 March 2012 at the time that Livingstone was Labour’s candidate as Mayor of London.
Here the JC referred to a letter from ‘prominent Labour-supporting Jewish members’ written to then Labour Leader Ed Miliband expressing their ‘profound concerns’ about Livingstone during his 2012 Mayor of London campaign (such as Livingstone linking ‘Jewish voting habits to economic status’ according to the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland) to include his:
· Seeming obsession with Israel
· His discourse when discussing Zionism
Sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it?
Yet these members were of the firm belief that Livingstone could turn over a new leaf and reconnect with the Jewish demographic key to the vote for this election. Given Livingstone’s subsequent loss to Boris Johnson (who is not immune to mentioning Hitler in public) one might blame Mason and his allies for not showing the vigilance they are showing now where Livingstone is concerned. Not a bit of it. Mason blames Livingstone for this loss as well as Labour’s failure to capture the relatively marginal constituencies in the vicinity of Golders Green (Hendon and Finchley & Golders Green) in 2015.
So this raises the question as to why the JLM didn’t get on Livingstone’s case at this time. Maybe if Mason and his fellow comrades spoke up for Livingstone’s expulsion at that time we would not be discussing this now.
But I guess that’s not the point, is it?