Ken Livingstone: the Snake in Labour’s Grass

The front cover of his 2011 memoirs shows Ken – who for years was paid handsomely by the Evening Standard to review some of London’s top restaurants – relaxing in a greasy spoon caff. He claims his childhood dream was to work in London Zoo, and in many ways he appears to have made it come true.

 

I first saw Ken in County Hall in 1974. I was having a cuppa with the veteran Housing Committee Chair Gladys Dimson, a mild yet effective Old Labour politician. Suddenly she whispered: “Don’t look now – but here comes the snake in the grass”. Ken had entered the room.

Nothing has happened since to make me think she had been wrong in her assessment.

 

Everything in his life and times has always been of Ken and for Ken. Now we finally have also have the ‘by Ken’. Reading “You Can’t Say That” is a weary trawl through over 670 pages of self-serving tedium. The author is clearly as media-obsessed as he is self-obsessed, appearing to have  read – and kept – every single newspaper reference to himself, for better or worse. He is also the kind of bully who accuses others of thuggery while always presents himself as the victim. The result is whinge rather than wit.

I chose two incidents of which I have considerable personal knowledge to give Ken’s account a reality check. The first was the infamous party attended by Ken, his then pregnant girlfriend Emma Beale and Emma’s best friend, my colleague Robin Hedges. It involved a violent row between Ken (who had been drinking) and Emma (who had been smoking). Robin came to her defence and ended up severely injured at the bottom of a stairwell. There followed an ambulance trip to A&E.

 

Ken claimed that Robin had “lost his balance”. Robin clearly remembers being helped to lose his balance by a shove from Ken. Ken then says Robin “asked us to issue a statement” insisting it was just an accident. Robin tells me he was put under enormous pressure, while in his hospital bed,  by Emma, first not to call the police and then to agree to a statement drafted by Ken and herself. Robin had – and has – no reason to lie, while for Ken it would have been a career killer. You do the maths.

 

The second incident involves another colleague, Oliver Finegold. I recommend anyone interested in a career in spinning, ducking and diving to read carefully pages 513 – 517.

What actually happened was that, after a City Hall reception to which the Standard had not been invited, Oliver asked Ken politely how the party had gone. Ken replied by asking if he was a “German war criminal”. After being told by Finegold that he was Jewish and offended by the remark, Ken said: “Oh, you’re like those concentration camp guards, then – only obeying orders”.

When the story broke Ken first tried to claim that Oliver had sworn at him. He had to abandon this vicious lie when a tape recording emerged.

In his book, he dismisses the entire exchange as light-hearted banter, and claims “I was exonerated” by the High Court. He got off on a technicality, but Mr Justice Collins emphasised:  “This decision is not an indication that, in my view, the appellant’s (Mr Livingstone’s) actions were appropriate. I’m quite clear they were not.”

 

Robin Hedges is now devoting himself to helping children in Cambodian orphanages. He tells me his biggest ever regret was to trust Emma, whom he considered a friend, and lie to save Ken Livingstone’s career. And when Ken states, as he did again today, that he has never met an anti-Semite in the Labour Party, I feel inclined to offer him a mirror.

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Boris and Ken: warnings from history

With Boris Johnson making a naked bid to become PM and Ken Livingstone making trouble for Jeremy Corbyn, I decided to revive this, from November 2011, from the Literary Review, in which I got my teeth into Boris’s unauthorised biography and Ken’s auto-hagiography. My hope is that reading this will you put you off both of these shallow, shameless opportunists.

 

DURING the Tory Party Conference in October 2011 an encounter occurred between Boris Johnson and his unauthorised biographer Sonia Purnell.

“I spotted Boris at around midnight,” says Purnell, who used to work with Boris in the Daily Telegraph office in Brussels. “He was talking to Nick Robinson of the BBC who discreetly stepped aside.

“Boris said, ‘Have you written anything nice about me?’ and I said there’s lots of nice stuff. He said he had only seen the extracts in the papers and he said he must read it, he had only heard what some people had been saying about it.

“He then said he knew he should have bought me lunch, but I knew he never would. He only buys lunch when he really needs to get out of a hole and keep people onside.”

 

This incident reminded me of my own encounters with Boris, following a cover story I wrote about him for the Spectator in 2010, two years into his mayoralty. It was written more in sorrow than in anger, but it pulled no punches in comparing Boris’s pre-election persona and promises and his rather disappointing performance as London’s elected leader.

I expected Boris to either rage against me, or ask me to come and talk to him about my criticisms. After all, I had discussed planning and housing with him a few times during the election campaign, and was even put forward for the position of Deputy Mayor for Housing (a job that was subsequently mysteriously abolished, and even more mysteriously resurrected).

But all Boris wanted to know was whether I had offered the piece to the Speccie or whether they had asked for it. When I said it was very much the latter, he put on his best hangdog expression (nobody does it better, although Prince Charles comes close) and shuffled off promising to be in touch. I knew he wouldn’t and I was right.

 

Nothing in Purnell’s thoroughly researched and well crafted page-turner (not to say ‘bodice ripper’) came as a surprise to me, although I was struck by her insights.

“In spite of his quick-fire wit he does not laugh,” she notes, explaining that this is because “To laugh – as to cry – involves a loss of control… and that is something he is unwilling to allow.” How true: in spite of all those familiar shambolic features, Boris is an intensely calculating man with a sharp albeit lazy mind.

What I was not expecting was her detailed account of his four-year affair with Petronella Wyatt, and especially the searingly painful description of events leading up to her aborting the second baby she conceived by him. At one point, Purnell says, he suggested “she should have an affair with someone else and say it was their child” – so he could avoid paying child support. Lady Wyatt added that Boris had refused to pay the £1,500 medical costs of the abortion. His description of his £250,000 a year for his Telegraph column as “chickenfeed”, makes Purnell’s revelations of Boris’s common meanness particularly unattractive.

 

Andrew Gilligan once quipped that Boris was a serious man pretending to be a buffoon, while Ken Livingstone was a buffoon pretending to be a serious man.

 

The front cover of his memoirs shows Ken – who for years was paid handsomely by the Evening Standard to review some of London’s top restaurants – relaxing in a greasy spoon caff. He claims his childhood dream was to work in London Zoo, and in many ways he appears to have made it come true.

I first saw Ken in County Hall in 1974. I was having a cuppa with the veteran Housing Chair Gladys Dimson, a mild yet effective Old Labour politician. Suddenly she whispered: “Don’t look now – but here comes the snake in the grass.” Ken had entered the room.

 

Nothing has happened since to make me think she had been wrong in her assessment.

Everything in his life and times has always been of Ken and for Ken. Now we finally have also have the ‘by Ken’. Reading “You Can’t Say That” is a weary trawl through over 670 pages of self-serving tedium. The author is clearly as media-obsessed as he is self-obsessed, appearing to have  read – and kept – every single newspaper reference to himself, for better or worse. He is also the kind of bully who accuses others of thuggery while always presenting himself as the victim. The result is whinge rather than wit.

I chose two incidents of which I have considerable personal knowledge to give Ken’s account a reality check. The first was the infamous party attended by Ken, his then pregnant girlfriend Emma Beale and Emma’s best friend, my friend and colleague Robin Hedges. It involved a row between Ken (who had been drinking) and Emma (who had been smoking). Robin came to her defense and ended up severely injured at the bottom of a stairwell. There followed an ambulance trip to A&E.

Ken claims that Robin “lost his balance”. Robin clearly remembers being helped to lose his balance by a shove from Ken. Ken then says Robin “asked us to issue a statement”, insisting it was just an accident. Robin tells me he was put under enormous pressure by Emma, first not to call the police and then to agree to a statement drafted by Ken and herself. Robin had – and has – no reason to lie, while for Ken it would have been a career killer. You do the maths.

 

The second incident involves another colleague, Oliver Finegold. I recommend anyone interested in a career in spinning, ducking and diving to read carefully pages 513 – 517.

What actually happened was that, after a City Hall reception to which the Standard had not been invited, Oliver asked Ken politely how the party had gone. Ken replied by asking if he was a “German war criminal”. After being told by Finegold that he was Jewish and offended by the remark, Ken said: “Oh, you’re like those concentration camp guards, then – only obeying orders”.

When the story broke Ken first tried to claim that Oliver had sworn at him. He had to abandon this vicious lie when a tape recording emerged.

In his book, he dismisses the entire exchange as light-hearted banter, and claims “I was exonerated” by the High Court. In fact, he got off on a technicality, but Mr Justice Collins emphasised:  “This decision is not an indication that, in my view, the appellant’s (Mr Livingstone’s) actions were appropriate. I’m quite clear they were not.”

No apology has ever been forthcoming (has Ken ever apologised for anything ?) and – irony of ironies – he is happy to quote the support he got in refusing to apologise from… Boris Johnson!

 

Which brings us full circle.

 

If you want to know who and what Boris is, read Purnell. If you want to know who and what Ken is – read Andrew Hosken’s admirably fair, accurate and lively 2008 biography, which is also 200 pages shorter. You may then reach the sad conclusion that one is a man who listens to no one and one who listens to too many; between one who air-brushes history and one who writes about it; between a control freak and an out-of-control freak. And that Britain deserves better – much better – than either.

 

PS Purnell’s comprehensive book has an eight-page index.

Ken’s index is 30 pages long and contains glancing single references to Michelle Obama and Lord Lucan. But none to “restaurant”…

 

 

Don’t mentschhhion Free Speech here – we’re a UNIVERSITY!

 

Since a storm erupted in the teacup that is Oxford University’s Labour club and it is about alleged antisemitism, and since the first victims in such rows tend to be the FACTS, here are a few to be getting on with:

The number of antisemitic incidents in Britain fell by more than a fifth last year compared to 2014. That should be cause for celebration, but not for a community which needs to portray itself as a permanent victim. So the Jewish media chose to highlight the fact that “2015 was still the third worst year on record”.

Figures published by the Community Security Trust (@CST_UK, a charity devoted to alarming the Jewish community and raising funds by doing so), revealed there were 924 incidents of “Jew hatred” last year, 22 per cent down from 1,179 in 2014, following the Gaza conflict. On closer examination, one finds only TWO incidents of serious bodily harm in the entire year.

In London, “A white male with an East European accent attacked a man on a London Underground train. He asked for money and then shouted “f**king Jewish b*****d”,  while punching the man repeatedly in the face. The victim was NOT JEWISH (!) and the offender was dealt with under the Mental Health Act, the CST admitted.

In Manchester, four “visibly Jewish teenagers” were attacked by three white males at a Metrolink station. Antisemitic remarks were made by the offenders, and one of the victims suffered serious head injuries including a fractured skull. Two offenders were sentenced to youth detention.

So the bottom line is that Maureen Lipmann can unpack her bags (again) as can several Times columnists. Antisemitism is a lesser danger than that small earthquake in Chile and living in the UK – as a Jew or otherwise – is considerably safer than being a Jew in Israel and VASTLY safer than being a non-Jew in the Holyland, given that Palestinians get shot dead daily while African refugees get locked up in desert “facilities” until they agree to be deported – or die.

But that’s no reason for sensitive flowers at Oxford not to blanch by Israel being called an Apartheid State (which it now is by any definition) and for unblushing self-publicists like John Mann to demand that heads must roll.

And what of free speech and Academic Freedom? Schhhh…. not at THIS university, matey.

 

 

How to avoid saying “antisemitism is down” when it is down

It’s as if Donald Trump were to describe Ted Cruz’s surprise win in Iowa by saying that Cruz came one before last.

The number of antisemitic incidents in Britain fell by more than a fifth last year compared to 2014. That should be cause for celebration, but not for a community which needs to portray itself as a permanent victim. So the Jewish media chose to highlight the fact that “2015 was still the third worst year on record”.

Figures published by the Community Security Trust, a charity devoted to scaring the Jewish community and raising funds by doing so, revealed there were 924 incidents of Jew hatred last year, 22 per cent down from 1,179 in 2014, following the Gaza conflict.  cst_incidents
On close examination, one finds only TWO incidents of serious bodily harm in the entire year.

In London, “A white male with an East European accent attacked a man on a London Underground train. He asked for money and then shouted “f**king Jewish b*****d”,  while punching the man repeatedly in the face. The victim was NOT JEWISH (!) and the offender was dealt with under the Mental Health Act, the CST admitted.

In Manchester, four “visibly Jewish teenagers” were attacked by three white males at a Metrolink station. Antisemitic remarks were made by the offenders, and one of the victims suffered serious head injuries including a fractured skull. Two offenders were sentenced to youth detention.

So the bottom line is that Maureen Lipmann can unpack her bags (again) as can several Times columnists. Antisemitism is a lesser danger than that small earthquake in Chile and living in the UK – as a Jew or otherwise – is considerably safer than being a Jew in Israel and VASTLY safer than being a non-Jew in the Holyland, given that Palestinians get shot dead daily while African refugees get locked up in desert “facilities” until they agree to be deported – or die.

I would not, by the way, expect many CST headlines in the mainstream media tomorrow. I wonder whether they will report that, following Israeli intervention at the highest level, American News network CBS changed today (Thursday) their headline “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on,” to “Israeli police kill 3 alleged Palestinian attackers.”

Phew…

 

 

 

 

French With Many Tears

 

This article is based on one written by Cnaan Liphshizof the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, to which I have added my analysis.

Zionists who insists all Jews must come to live in Israel are like pro-Life campaigners. They will move heaven and earth to persuade – or frighten – people to upsticks and emigrate. But once the baby is been born – and the families have uprooted themselves to Israel, for them a foreign country – they stop caring. Their job is done.

Which is why many thousands of French Jews who emigrated to Israel in the past two years as Israeli politicians repeatedly told them they would only be safe in the Holy Land are now bitter and bewildered. They may still believe their lives are safer, but when it comes to their livelihoods they are realizing they have made a serious mistake.

Catherine Berdah ran a successful pharmacy in an affluent suburb on the eastern edge of Paris until she sold up to move to Israel. With a master’s degree in business and decades of experience, Berdah earned over £4,200 per month and had 14 employees. Last year she moved with her husband and two teenage daughters, hoping to build a new pharmacy business in the Jewish state.

But six months on she has already quit one £4-per-hour job with no prospects and another in a health clinic where she was told to stack boxes which she was unable to lift. “At 60, I was told that lifting boxes was basically all I’m good for,” Bredah said. “That’s when I started to feel humiliated.”

To be able to practice in Israel she has been told she must produce her attendance log from a pharmacology internship she completed 30 years ago with a French pharmacist who is no longer alive. She must then take an exam with an 80 percent fail rate.

“French physicians, nurses and pharmacists who’ve studied for five and eight years won’t work here as sanitary workers like their Russian counterparts did in the 1990s,” said Mickael Bensadoun, the director of Qualita, an umbrella body for French immigrants. “They’re Zionist, but there’s a limit. If it comes to that, they’ll return to France or move to countries hungry for skilled newcomers, like Canada.”

Their plight recalls that of Russian immigrants who arrived in Israel in the 1990s, many of them highly trained professionals with advanced degrees forced to work low-skill jobs as rubbish collectors and street sweepers because their credentials were not recognized. I recall a concert violinist reduced to busking in Jerusalem, and he was not alone.

Israeli authorities have been accused of creating unnecessary obstacles to protect local professionals from immigrant competition. The Israeli Health Ministry declined to respond to the charge and referred all inquiries to the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption, which said that “efforts are underway to resolve issues” – as 15-20 percent of French immigrants to return to France within two years.

Meyer Habib, a Jewish member of France’s National Assembly, declared he would advise French Jews not to go. “I cannot support a situation which creates tragedies in people’s lives,” he wrote on Facebook.

“I’m going to give it another year,” Catherine Berdah said. “But it’s not going too well.” The situation has put strains on her marriage as husband Michel, already wants the family to return. “We are obviously not wanted here”, he says.

Please, Mr Clark, intervene NOW to save Lincolns Inn which Historic England let down

 

A planning application which will do irreversible harm to Lincolns Inn Fields has been approved by Camden Council not least because Historic England failed – yet again – in its duty to protect historic buildings and their setting.

Its future now rests with Communities Secretary Greg Clark.

Camden granted permission in spite of objections from Prince Charles’s Attorney General, Tory grandee Lord Deben and a long list of eminent conservationists and QCs.

The council had been advised by its officers to allow the demolition of a listed building and its replacement with a Modernist structure. It claimed the demolition was backed by Historic England, only weeks after the “conservation watchdog” had to admit a serious error of judgement when it backed Kings College’s effort to demolish historic buildings on the Strand. In that case Kings withdrew its application Following the intervention of Mr Clark.

This time the building in question, known as the Under Treasurer’s House, is attached to the Great Hall and Library of Lincoln’s Inn, which are listed Grade II*, and therefore shares the listed status. However, although it looks Victorian, it was added in the 1960s and is not on the official register.

The replacement being proposed, on the other hand, looks like a crude 1960s design with an odd-shaped roof, not remotely in keeping with the neo-Gothic splendour of the magnificent setting.

Jonathan Crow QC, who acted for the Prince in several recent privacy cases, is himself a “Bencher” (senior member) of Lincoln’s Inn. “I am devoted to the Inn and to its legal and physical heritage”, he wrote to Camden Council. It is the responsibility of any generation to preserve and improve its inheritance for future generations.

“The Inn’s current proposals do neither. On the contrary, they would significantly diminish the existing qualities of the Inn.” It is thought highly unlikely that Crow would adopt a public stance without the tacit approval of the Prince himself.

Lord Deben, aka John Selwyn Gummer, was once in charge of the government’s conservation watchdog English Heritage (now renamed Historic England) but opposes its stance strongly. “The Victorian heritage of Lincoln’s Inn is far too valuable a legacy to be destroyed by such an act of vandalism”, he told me. “The Benchers should be celebrating their inheritance not pulling it down. I thought we had left this kind of behaviour behind in the 1960s.“ Quite.

Historic England is breaching its own rules by backing the plans by Lincoln’s Inn to demolish. In answer to my question, the watchdog admitted it did not know whether or not the building was listed and it was “a thorny legal issue”. Camden’s planning officers, on the other hand, said it was listed, yet recommended demolition anyway.

It has also seriously breached its own rules when it failed to present the application to its expert London Advisory Committee. When asked, a spokeswoman said that a “report” had gone to members of the LAC in June – before the replacement had even been designed. I asked to see this “report”: it was 109 words long and dismissed the listed building because “its quality and craftsmanship are poor”. This opinion is without foundation.

I have also spoken to members of the LAC who told me they had no knowledge of this application and had never seen the June “report”.

Robert McCraken QC, an experienced planning barrister, is a senior member of Lincoln’s Inn and Chair of the Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, McCraken resigned from the Inn’s Development Working Group because he refused to accept their plans. McCracken said Lincoln’s Inn was “an institution whose physical heritage is the responsibility of our generation to preserve and hand on to future generations.”

The Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn and Hardwick’s Library are among the most important buildings in the country. Any plans to demolish or alter can only be approved by the Secretary of State, Greg Clarke. But the application has not been referred to Mr Clarke although he is known to be taking an interest in it.

Conservationists hope he may yet intervene as he did on the in the Strand application and embarrass Historic England – again – for failing in their most basic duty: to protect historic buildings.

Whether or not he does,  I will be left wondering, and not the the first time, what Historic England is for.

UPDATE: Historic England is betraying its own heritage. So what is it for?

A planning application which will do irreversible harm to Lincolns Inn Fields is likely to be approved by Camden Council later this month because Historic England is failing in its duty to protect historic buildings and their setting.

Camden adjourned a decision on the application, by Lincoln’s inn from last Thursday. But the mood of the meeting was to grant permission in spite of objections from Prince Charles’s Attorney General, Tory grandee Lord Deben and a long list of eminent conservationists and QCs.

The council has been advised by its officers to allow the demolition of a listed building and its replacement with a Modernist structure and the demolition is backed by Historic England, only weeks after the “conservation watchdog” had to admit a serious error of judgement when it backed Kings College’s effort to demolish historic buildings on the Strand. In that case Kings withdrew its application Following the intervention of Communities Secretary Greg Clarke.

This time the building in question, known as the Under Treasurer’s House, is attached to the Great Hall and Library of Lincoln’s Inn, which are listed Grade II*, and therefore shares the listed status. However, although it looks Victorian, it was added in the 1960s and is not on the official register.

The replacement being proposed, on the other hand, looks like a crude 1960s design with an odd-shaped roof, not remotely in keeping with the neo-Gothic splendour of the magnificent setting.

Jonathan Crow QC, who acted for the Prince in several recent privacy cases, is himself a “Bencher” (senior member) of Lincoln’s Inn. “I am devoted to the Inn and to its legal and physical heritage”, he wrote to Camden Council. It is the responsibility of any generation to preserve and improve its inheritance for future generations.

“The Inn’s current proposals do neither. On the contrary, they would significantly diminish the existing qualities of the Inn.” It is thought highly unlikely that Crow would adopt a public stance without the tacit approval of the Prince himself.

Lord Deben, aka John Selwyn Gummer, was once in charge of the government’s conservation watchdog English Heritage (now renamed Historic England) but opposes its stance strongly. “The Victorian heritage of Lincoln’s Inn is far too valuable a legacy to be destroyed by such an act of vandalism”, he told me. “The Benchers should be celebrating their inheritance not pulling it down. I thought we had left this kind of behaviour behind in the 1960s.“ Quite.

Historic England is breaching its own rules by backing the plans by Lincoln’s Inn to demolish. In answer to my question, the watchdog admitted it did not know whether or not the building was listed and it was “a thorny legal issue”. Camden’s planning officers, on the other hand, said it was listed, yet recommended demolition anyway.

It has also seriously breached its own rules when it failed to present the application to its expert London Advisory Committee. When asked, a spokeswoman said that a “report” had gone to members of the LAC in June – before the replacement had even been designed. I asked to see this “report”: it was 109 words long and dismissed the listed building because “its quality and craftsmanship are poor”. This opinion is without foundation.

I have also spoken to members of the LAC who told me they had no knowledge of this application and had never seen the June “report”.

Robert McCraken QC, an experienced planning barrister, is a senior member of Lincoln’s Inn and Chair of the Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, McCraken resigned from the Inn’s Development Working Group because he refused to accept their plans. McCracken said Lincoln’s Inn was “an institution whose physical heritage is the responsibility of our generation to preserve and hand on to future generations.”

The Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn and Hardwick’s Library are among the most important buildings in the country. Any plans to demolish or alter can only be approved by the Secretary of State, Greg Clarke. But the application has not been referred to Mr Clarke although he is known to be taking an interest in it.

Conservationists hope he may yet intervene as he did on the in the Strand application and embarrass Historic England – again – for failing in their most basic duty: to protect historic buildings. Or that Historic England will come to its senses and block the demolition.

Unless it does, I will be left wondering, and not the the first time, what it is for.