There was a time when Ken Livingstone was feared. Not because he was an enormous, foot-in-mouth, toe curling, sweat inducing political liability for the Labour Party, but because he was a genuinely formidable political player at the top of his game. That era ended quite some time ago with his hugely offensive (and often repeated) views on Hitler’s supposed Zionism. And his Labour Party life ended for good this week when he announced he was quitting the Party. Having been suspended, then suspended again, this was a classic case of jump before you’re pushed.
Or was it? The only real question now for Labour Party high command is – why wasn’t he pushed? There’s no doubt that feelings within the Party for Ken Livingstone had turned distinctly frosty since the result of the London local elections when the impact of Labour’s anti-semitism row were actually felt where it hurts – electorally – by the failure to win key targets like Barnet. Shami Chakrabarti, for example, the staunch Corbyn loyalist, openly and severely criticised Livingstone on air in recent weeks.
But for all of the Party talk about stamping out anti-Semitism in the weeks before and since the elections, why was Livingstone – one of the most high profile and well-known Labour politicians to sit at the centre of the crisis – allowed the dignity of resigning? Rather than being pushed, he has been allowed to valiantly stand down for the good of the Party whilst still maintaining that his offensive views were simply a “historical argument”.
Perhaps it’s because old loyalties go way back for Jeremy Corbyn, and he wasn’t prepared to end an old comrade’s career in such a way. Or perhaps it is just another example of the cowardice and inertia that has plagued Corbyn’s entire handling of the Labour Party’s anti-semitism crisis. By letting Livingstone quit rather than expelling him publically, Corbyn has missed the opportunity to make an unequivocal point about his old friend’s views. Once again, the Labour leader has left many people wondering where he stands.