John McDonnell tells Ken Livingstone to apologise but refuses to be drawn on Labour expulsion

Posted On: 
9th April 2017

John McDonnell has called on Ken Livingstone to apologise for his comments linking Adolf Hitler to Zionism – but stopped short of saying the former mayor of London should be kicked out of Labour. 

John McDonnell on Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday show
Sky News

The Shadow Chancellor said he was “quite angry” about Mr Livingstone’s refusal to row back on his claims, and warned that Labour’s relations with the Jewish community would not recover until he says sorry.

Mr McDonnell described himself as an “old ally” of Mr Livingstone, having worked with him on the Greater London Council in the 1980s.

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Mr Livingstone was suspended last April when he said the Nazi dictator had "supported Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews".

A Labour committee found him guilty last week of three counts of bringing the party into disrepute but chose not to expel him for the offences.

The remarks were made in an effort to defend Naz Shah, a Labour MP who has apologised for sharing a post on social media suggesting moving Israel to the United States.

Since the verdict, Mr Livingstone has doubled down on his claims – and at the hearing he claimed that German Jews had acted in “collaboration” with the Nazi regime before the outbreak of World War II.

The decision not to expel Mr Livingstone prompted an outcry from, among others in the Jewish community, the Chief Rabbi and senior figures within Labour including deputy leader Tom Watson.

Jeremy Corbyn subsequently released a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” by Mr Livingstone’s conduct, while the ruling National Executive Council will investigate whether he should face further disciplinary action.

In his first public comments on the matter since last year, Mr McDonnell told Sky News he had advised the former mayor to apologise as soon as the row erupted.

“Ken Livingstone, last year I made it clear to him he should have apologised immediately. He didn’t and I was quite angry about that,” he said on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday show.

But he stopped short of calling for his expulsion, saying he did not want to “pre-judge” the NEC’s investigations.

Mr McDonnell said: “People are surprised at what happened out of the hearings that took place. I’d like to know what legal advice was provided. What will now happen is the NEC will consider this matter again and there will be further consideration of the mater. I’m not saying anything now that will pre-judge that or prejudice what will come out of it.

“But my advice to Ken again, and I say this as an old ally of his: apologise. This argument about historical fact is not the issue; the issue is you deployed it to justify what was an anti-Semitic statement by Naz Shah. Just apologise now.

“Jewish members of the community will accept contrition and will forgive and move on but until we get some sort of apology I don’t think we can.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, an ally of Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell, said Mr Livingstone’s comments were a “complete insult” and backed him being kicked out of Labour.

“I was surprised he wasn’t thrown out. I think that he should have been,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.