Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mr Livingstone again

Livingstone is in the news accused of being anti-semitic, again. Unlike last time though I feel slightly less inclined to defend the man. Here's an excerpt from the BBC's piece on this Mayor in fresh Jewish controversy

"Ken Livingstone attacked David and Simon Reuben for their role in an ongoing dispute about the Stratford City development in east London. He suggested the brothers "go back (to their own country) and see if they can do better under the ayatollah". "

Now I find it hard to believe that someone with Livingstone's anti-racist credentials is anti-Semitic and stand by our article on the previous 'scandal' (What's behind the Livingstone suspension?) but there is a real problem here. You don't tell people to go back to 'their own country' and there is no context here to justify it. This seems like basic anti-racist common sense to me.

Of course life's a lot more complicated than being able to stick a label on someone (like racist/anti-racist, good bloke/wife beater) and I firmly believe that anti-racists are not immune to the prevailing ideas in society and that we can all slip up - but for someone of Livingstone's pedigree to say foreigners to go back to their own country if they don't like it here (although actually they are Indian / Iraqi not Iranian, but never mind) is a real problem and he needs to act swiftly, particularly because of his other problems, to head this off.

But regardless of the Livingstone case for a moment, can anti-racists accept racist ideas?

I think the answer is yes. I remember a massive scandal amongst the ranks of Essex university socialists about ten years ago when, at a Christmas Party, two women started having a rather loud and obnoxious conversation about how greasy mediteranians were and they tried to work out which nation was the greasiest. Others there were pretty embarressed and slow to say anything and, unfortunately, it was upto another woman, from Malta, to step in and object to this disgraceful conversation.

Now in the ensuing rows those people who decided to defend these women's actions (hmmm, yes) consistently used the argument "But how can you say they are racist when they've done so much anti-racist work" because they simply could not get their head around the idea that someone who is a genuine anti-racist could simultaneously hold racist ideas. Now all that we wanted was an apology for the incident and an acceptence that the idea of classing foreign nationals according to how greasy they are is not on - but we never argued that these people were racists, only that even the best person could succumb to an objectively racist theory, often unconsciously.

This black and white view of the ideas people hold is often responsible for wrong footing us when people step out of the role we've given them. It's responsible for the AWL described Tariq Ali as "the LibDem voting Tariq Ali", for example. What's important is that we try to approach the world with an open mind and try to see which direction people are going rather than insist that we cannot live with a contradiction and that we can be fully defined by just one aspect of ourselves.

Although I must say that some contradictions are harder to get your head around than others - like the ex-flat mate of mine who told me proudly how anti-racist he was and that he'd "been telling a coon" this that very morning... I confess I just stared at him not sure what to say - here was a man developing an understanding that racism was a bad thing and a lecture on appropriate language was unlikely to go down well with this particular individual - but I still think he had some way to go on the road to political purity... but then again don't we all?


12 comments:

AN said...

It certainly isn't a public relations triumph for Red Ken.
I don't understand why he adopted such an intransigent attitude in the first place to the Standard. All he had to say after the Oliver Fimgold incident was a politicians apology: that he was "sorry that Finegold had been offended"

Reuben said...

this is far worse than the finegold incident. Telling jews to see how they fair under the ayatollah i like teling blacks to see how they fair under apartheid.

Basically lftists have better things to do than defend him.

AN said...

The only caution I have is that he may not have actually said it.
I note that the Evening Standard only reports that he "apparently" said it, though the BBC actually attributes it the remark to him without qualification.
It will be interesting to see how his press officers reract, so far they have only said they are "aware of the reports"

Jim Jay said...

I think the Evening Standard are being extra cautious because of their 'relationship' with Livingstone, but a quick browse of the news sources on line shows that hardly anyone has taken this story up... which is interesting in itself.

Reuben said...

ok i just saw a video of him saying it on the BBC, it appears to be in some kind of a press conference. He is remaining defiant saying that he 'apologises to any Iranian for associating them with the reuben brothers'. Perhaps he should apologise specifically to the dwindling Jewish community in Iran whose plight he seems to consider a great joke

Jim Jay said...

There does seem to be a point where belligerance in itself becomes a handicap... but part of this problem is not that Livingstone is gaff prone (I'm being polite here) but that so much weight is put upon what one individual says so his gaffs actually have an impact.

In the absence of a strong *movement* we are left with reliance upon famous individuals who have zero accountability, and know it.

It seems to me the answer to this is not just greater accountability for these individuals but a reassertion of the ideas that the leadership is the base of the movement and those elected to represent us have to come to heel.

AN said...

I would say that the remarks about the Reuben brothers are grossly anti-semitic - as I am now convnced he did say it - and the Labour Party should take disciplinary action, to force him to retract them.

I agree with Jim that the isolation of "famous" individuals is a product of opur general wekaness. But Livingstone is also partly to blame for his isolation, as his adminsitratiuon in London has been unnecessarily cautions, and although (God be praised!) I don't live there and don't speak from personal expereince, it is hard to see what he has done for working class Londoners, and would Frank Dobson have been any worse?

Jim Jay said...

True, true - individuals can use their isolation (as Benn and Galloway have in their own unique ways) or they can try to combat it as Serwotka has done - to good effect.

One problem with the Benn's and Galloway's of the world is that they a) rely on their own judgement, which could be very wide of the mark on any particular occasion, (see Livingstone) and b) if they do something well it doesn't necessarily translate as a stronger movement only a stronger personal standing in that movement.

Now I think that Benn and Galloway are great people who are rightly admired, but what does it do in, say, the anti-war movement whose strength was its diversity to raise any particular person (and therefore political strand) above the others. It begins to boil the movement down to its component parts - weakening it - despite the fact that one individual's profile has increased.

For example, the Green Party in my town include among its number some people who have done a great deal of anti-war work and one of them was on the stwc steering committee - but now they view stwc activities as Respect electoral work and don't support them, go to them, engage with them in anyway... and whatever criticism you might have of these greens for doing this it is a bad thing to have happenned that is a direct product of the push towards the idea of important people who are leaders of the movement (and therefore our leaders, no matter what differences you may have with them)so to support the movement becomes (in the minds of these people) support for these individuals.

AN said...

To change the emphasis slightly.

These two web sites (both are real and not a wind up) explain why any sensible person avoids London :

http://www.belowzerolondon.com/icebar.html

http://www.danslenoir.com/london/

Charlie Pottins said...

Considering some of the people Livingstone and his chums have been hobnobbing with people might think they were under the ayatollahs.
I don't think Livingstone is an antisemite, but he is emerging as a right dickhead. Maybe it is the job. All those posters and other piexces of publicity signed "The Mayor of London". Must take it out of you having to do everything personally. Londoners were conned into thinking we might get elected city government. It's a crap set up, this figurehead touting for big business, but Livingstone seems to love it.
Personally I didn't want the Olympics, or the stadium at Wembley, big white elephant that will prove a nuisance as and when it opens. I don't like the policies of sucking up to business, or bread and circuses(not much bread mind) for the masses. I don't like a man who brings a congestion charge then invited Formula 1 to regent street in the rush hour.
I've defended Livingstone against Board of Deputies and Simon Wiesenthal Centre (what do they know they supported Arnold Schwartzenegger for godsake!) But it's time the labour movement in London woke up and rid itself of this loud-mouthed pillock and his team of overpaid "advisers" that nobody elected, too. Time the Left stopped looking for "leaders" and stood up on its own feet.

Jim Jay said...

"Time the Left stopped looking for "leaders" and stood up on its own feet."

Totally agree, Livingstone always had problems in my view, but these all pale into insignificance since he became Mayor.

Personally his worst behaviour has been his support for head of police Blair over the shoot to kill policy. It's just turns my stomache.

But I also think we should be careful what we criticise people for and don't start seeing the world as goodies and baddies and grabbing at 'any stick to beat a dog' (as the charming saying goes)

AN said...

I am happy to go along with the idea that Ken is not actually an anti-semite. But he is prepared to help out if they are short-handed, it seems.

The language of sending people back "where they come from" is so linked to organised racism that Livingstone could not have made that comment without knowing what he was saying. He wass neither born yesterday, nor is he stupid.