After nearly a fortnight of condemnation of his remarks likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard “doing the job just because you are paid to”, Ken Livingstone issued a blunt verdict on the row yesterday: “I have nothing to apologise for.”
In a 35-minute display of defiance and rhetoric, the London Mayor insisted he had not meant to offend Jews – and renewed his tirade against Associated Newspapers, owner of the Daily Mail and London Evening Standard.
Many had predicted Mr Livingstone would end the controversy, which threatened to overshadow London’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, by expressing regret for any offence caused to the Jewish community. But the Mayor said instead he had been “deeply affected” by concerns that his comments downplayed the Holocaust.
He contrasted what he said was his own record on combating racism – then spoke about what he claimed was the Daily Mail group’s role as “leading advocates of anti-Semitism in Britain for half a century”.
At his weekly press conference in City Hall, Mr Livingstone intensified his conflict with Associated Newspapers by accusing its titles of peddling intolerance, first against Russian Jews a century ago and now against asylum-seekers. The Mayor said: “While it is true the Mail group no longer smears Jews as bringing crime and disease to the UK, it is only because they have moved on.
“After a decade of pandering to racism against our citizens of black and Irish origin, they have moved on and now describe asylum-seekers and Muslims in similar terms. For the Mail group, the victims may change but the intolerance, hatred and fear pervade every issue of the papers.”
The accusations, which Associated Newspapers rejected as “absurd” and “irrelevant”, came two weeks after a party held in honour of the Labour MP Chris Smith at which Mr Livingstone was approached by Oliver Finegold, from the Evening Standard. After finding out the reporter worked for Associated Newspapers, the Mayor likened him to a war criminal. When Mr Finegold said he was Jewish, Mr Livingstone said: “Well you might be but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard – you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?”
Keeping in mind that Livingstone got into hot water earlier in his term for pushing someone off a garden wall during a party, maybe it would be a good idea to give him a very wide berth a future social gatherings.