There’s something ugly, authoritarian even, in the suspension of Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party. Yes, Livingstone has an unhealthy obsession with Zionism and an eccentric reading of history. His claim that Hitler was a fan of Zionism before ‘he went mad and killed six million Jews’ is easily shot down. But is it a crime now to hold kooky views? To think certain ideologies wicked, which is clearly how Ken thinks of Zionism? To twist the past to suit your political prejudices? No party would have a solitary member left if all the people with an overly rosy or ideological or prejudiced take on history were booted out. Ken, it seems, has been suspended for being offensive, for thinking a certain way, and that’s pretty worrying for British politics.
Livingstone was suspended for two years on Tuesday evening following a party inquiry into his comments about Hitler. His Tourette’s-like blather about Hitler and the Zionists and what he fantasises was a cosy relationship between them before the former ‘went mad’ is certainly curious. But the way he’s been talked about, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a Russian spy or a dangerous Labourite on the cusp of conquering the party with some perverse new ideology. The Labour court found him guilty of ‘bringing the party into disrepute’. Senior Labour figures have declared themselves ‘horrified’ and ‘ashamed’ of his comments, and of the fact he was only suspended, rather than expelled. Labour members have been cutting up their membership cards. One Labourite hack says the failure to expel Ken means it is now ‘morally indefensible to be a member of the Labour Party’.
What’s this all about? To those of us who have always thought it morally indefensible to be a member of the Labour Party, it looks like a bizarre overreaction to one member’s droning insistence that Hitler temporarily liked Zionism. According to this overheated worldview, it was moral to be a member of Labour when it refused to support the General Strike of 1926, and when in 1967 it refused to allow ‘coloured immigrants’ from Kenya — that is, persecuted Asians — to come to Britain, and when in 1969 it sent British troops to Ireland and gave rise to 25 years of war there, and when in 2001 and 2003 it sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, bringing about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, but it suddenly became immoral when the party decided only to suspend rather than expel a member with potty views of 20th-century history. In short, it’s morally indefensible to be a member of Labour now that it refuses to kick out a man who some claim is racist towards Jews, but it was morally defensible when Labour was enacting repugnant racist laws and launching wars that killed untold numbers of brown people. What moral confusion – or depravity, even – is this?
If, in recent years, you stayed in Labour when it bombed Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and when it passed laws restricting the expression of religious hatred, and when it weakened the right to silence, the right to trial by jury and the age-old double jeopardy rule against being tried twice for the same crime, and when it introduced anti-social behaviour orders that utterly warped the universal, liberal principles of law, and when it replaced the politics of labour with the suspicious, spying ‘politics of behaviour’, and when it took the economy itself, the beating heart of meaningful politics, out of the democratic realm by making the Bank of England independent, but you cut up your membership card on Tuesday because Ken wasn’t expelled, then it’s possible it isn’t only Ken’s moral compass that’s fucked.
That even the Blairite sections of the party are saying ‘What has become of us?’ over the failure to expel Livingstone should shoot down the notion that this has anything to do with principle or morality. These are the people who okayed barbarism in the Middle East. Who have sat and watched, or even cheered, as Tony Blair has returned to the political fray to try to overturn the biggest democratic mandate in history: Brexit. I would never join Labour (I’m left-wing, so why would I?), and I’ve never been a fan of either Blair or Livingstone, the former having been a genuine force for destruction in the world, the latter being one of those soulless Labourcrats in love with the state and in possession of a nasal whine that somehow sums up all the miserabilism and meanness of the local-politics set. But if I were forced at gunpoint to join a party with one of these twits, I’d probably plump for Livingstone. Less blood and illiberalism on his hands, which is something.