Ken Livingstone brands Labour anti-Semitism row a 'complete diversion'
Ken Livingstone has dismissed the row over anti-Semitism in Labour as a "complete diversion", as he revealed that he is still campaigning for the party ahead of next week's local elections.
The former London mayor and close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is currently suspended from Labour as it investigates controversial remarks he made two years ago.
MPs and Jewish community groups have urged the party to speed up the case, which was launched in 2016 after Mr Livingstone claimed Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews”. The former mayor also claimed there was a "well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israel policy as anti-Semitic".
But, in a new interview with LBC, Mr Livingstone downplayed the row and said he expected his case to be resolved after the local elections.
He said: "I'm not discussing anti-Semitism until the election's all out of the way because it's a complete diversion.
"We had this last year in the run-up to the local elections then. We had it two years ago in the run-up to the election of Sadiq Khan, and it didn't damage us at the last two elections - but it is a complete diversion. Every Labour MP should just be focused now on getting out the Labour vote and winning council seats."
The former London mayor meanwhile revealed that he is still out campaigning for Labour ahead of the vote, telling the station he was "only allowed [to do so] in my local constituency".
Pressed on whether he still wanted to return to frontline politics, Mr Livingstone said: "I'm sure all this will be resolved once the local elections are out of the way."
He also expressed regret at not returning as an MP after losing City Hall to Boris Johnson a decade ago.
"Well, looking back the mistake I made was saying when I lost the election to Boris in 2008, I should've stood, got back into Parliament in 2010 because I would have supported Ed Miliband," he said. "I think he was a genuine Labour leader and I'd be doing anything now that Jeremy wants."
"NOT ONE OUNCE OF REMORSE"
The ex-London mayor's remarks drew swift condemnation from Jonathan Goldstein of the Jewish Leadership Council, one of the two groups which met Jeremy Corbyn to discuss the party's response to anti-Semitism at a heated meeting earlier this week.
Mr Goldstein said there had been welcome "movement from the Labour leadership" since that meeting, including a promise to expedite high-profile disciplinary cases by the end of July. But he hit out at the Labour left-winger, telling LBC Mr Livingstone "seems to have a complete desire to maintain his own personal relevance with no sensitivity towards the Jewish community."
And he added: "It's a surprising matter to hear, isn't it, that the Labour Party wish to welcome him back in when he has these allegations hanging over him, when they haven't dealt with them properly, when they've had over two years to deal with them.
"And it's disappointing to hear that and I think that these are allegations that need to be dealt with by the Labour Party once and for all and they're able to draw a line under this issue of Ken Livingstone and move on."
Richard Angell, director of the centrist Labour pressure group Progress also heaped scorn on Mr Livingstone, saying the veteran left-winger "doesn't respect the rules of the Labour Party and how we operate".
He added: "This is a man who shows literally not one ounce of remorse. He thinks the only mistake he made was not saying that Hitler was a Zionist before he went mad and all the kind of horrid comments he said after that, his career of offending British Jews, but the fact he didn't go back into Parliament in 2010. He's become a fanatic, this is outrageous."
Mr Livingstone's remarks come amid a bitter row in Labour over the party's handling of anti-Semitism. One of the party's major backers, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, this week hit out at "Corbyn-hater" MPs for raising the issue, accusing them of using abuse claims to undermine the Labour leadership. That earned him a slapdown from frontbencher Keir Starmer yesterday.