So, Ken Livingstone has said something dumb. Welcome to 1968 and just about every year since he first joined the Labour Party. It is now Saturday afternoon and Ken still hasn’t retracted what he said. It’s hardly a surprise. The only part of this that genuinely surprises is that it has taken until 2016 to pin something on him that might actually stick. ‘Red Ken’ might well be renamed ‘Dead Ken’ since it’s hard to see him reviving the corpse of his political career.
Consider, again, what he said on Thursday:
Let’s remember, when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.
The problem initially appears to be one of fact. He was asserting something about Hitler in 1932 that might or might not be correct. His defenders are already circulating memes highlighting the details of the Haavara Agreement which they claim supports Livingstone’s version of history. Newspapers are profiling the book ‘Zionism in the Age of the Dictators’.
Yet let’s try to be generous. Let’s accept that Ken is correct. Let us suppose that in 1932 Hitler did have a policy of moving German Jews to Israel. Let us be even more generous and accept that this amounts to ‘support’ for Zionism, even if that means stretching the definition of ‘support’ to breaking point. None of that actually helps Livingstone’s case because he should be focusing his attention on explaining the phrase ‘before he went mad’. It implies that there was a point at which Hitler lost the plot. Ken seems to be saying that, up to that point, Hitler was not mad. Livingstone is saying that Hitler’s position in 1932 was sane. He is suggesting that forcibly moving people from one country to another, in the name of ethnic cleansing, was the action of a rational man.
This, surely, is the point that Livingstone is singularly failing to address. We needn’t actually prove what Hitler’s policy was in 1932 because, really, it is of no significance to the argument at hand. We are discussing what Ken Livingstone believes was or was not a sign of sanity. And in Ken Livingstone’s own words, ‘before he went mad’, Hitler believed that ‘Jews should be moved to Israel’.
Ken has, of course, done Naz Shah a great service. How noble of him to leap in and distract the media from the anti-Semitic wittering of a former nobody and future political has been. At a time when Labour was being attacked for Naz Shah’s Facebook posts, Ken Livingstone tried to trip neatly around the facts and intellectualize the debate. He end up nose-planted in his own ordure.
It is habitual of the hard Left to embellish their politics with grandiloquent appeals to logic or the law. It is the thinking behind the ‘right to peaceful protest’ which begins with a protestor standing in front of police lines and taunting them in a way they think is legally acceptable. Told to move on, they sit down. Told to stand up, they chain themselves to a tree. It is, to leap momentarily across the Atlantic, the same twisted logic that preoccupies those protestors who believe they are acting in the finest ideals of democracy by silencing Donald Trump. Ken Livingstone wanted to blur the distinctions between good and bad, support and opposition, Zionism and anti-Zionism. It amounted to a embarrassing attempt at deconstructing history and was typical of many on the far Left who over think their positions.
Labour now finds itself with a problem but it’s a problem that the party has known about for a long time. Labour is deeply divided, at least inside Westminster, but the divisions are not simply between Old Labour and New. The Old Labour movement is itself fractured and it is simply naive (and unfair) to class all those to the left of left as anti-Semitic. Even the left are divided between the old style class warriors and a new breed of politician that panders to (or emerges from) the growing migrant underclass. George Galloway, for example, has made a career of eel-like wriggling and wriggled so far left that he eventually emerged on the far side of the far Left. Born in Dundee to a Scottish trade-unionist father and Irish mother, he has found a place for himself stirring the antagonism between cultures, slowly assimilating the dress, manner, language and (perhaps) even the religion of his largely Muslim electorate. It has allowed him to make a career on the periphery of the Labour movement, where easy votes are won among migrant communities eager to hear their MPs denounce Israel with every breath rather than work on local issues.
It was unsurprising, then, that Galloway emerged to comment on the Livingstone debacle. It’s the kind of performance that Galloway obviously relishes. He is also far too wily to make mistakes. Gorgeous George is the Supreme Leader Snoke to Livingstone’s Kylo Ken and when he appeared on Sky News to offer his judgment, Galloway was in blistering form.
Naz Shah’s, frankly, half witted scribblings were from before she was an MP and they were on Facebook. They were not like the two Palestinian children who were shot down dead in Jerusalem yesterday and left lying on the street like stray dogs. This is an entirely synthetic crisis. Ken Livingstone said absolutely nothing wrong. Everything he said was the truth. Historical fact. Proven. I’ve got the books. So should you. There was an agreement between the Nazi filth of Hitler and the Zionist leaders in Germany to send Germany’s Jews to Palestine.
As always, Galloway sounds like he’s appealing to the evidence. He gives with one hand (‘half-witted’ and ‘Nazi filth’) whilst taking even more away with the other. This might work fine except no news source — not even Twitter — has been reporting the death of two Palestinian children shot in Jerusalem in recent days. As of this moment, the best fit I can find is the shooting of a 23 year old Palestinian woman and her 16 year old brother, who were accused of attempting to stab an officer at a checkpoint. Their uncle’s accusation was that they were heading to a doctor’s appointment.
We cannot possibly authenticate either story but, really, in this case, we needn’t try. We need barely note that even if you consider 16 years to be a child, the same is not true of a 23 year old woman. Yet even if we accept Galloway’s characterisation as the death of two young people, we can still not explain Galloway’s own half-witted mumblings. How are Facebook posts in any way like ‘two Palestinian children who were shot dead in Jerusalem’? Galloway is implying there’s a comparison through a wild juxtaposition and, because of the force of his character, makes it sound almost logical. It was, however, simply a emotive non sequitur dropped into the argument to colour the water. It is misdirection, rhetorical gamesmanship, the art of magician making you look up so you ignore the shady goings on in your back pocket.
It is precisely the kind of double-talk that the Labour Party must now address. Both Livingstone and Galloway have always been adored and loathed in equal measure. Rarely talking the party line, they are individually gifted and blessed with a certain charisma. Yet both have developed a clever way of speaking around their points. They dance, they opine, they posture, but they rarely ever say what they truly mean. Jeremy Corbyn must now prove what he truly means when he says that there’s no place in the Labour Party for racism and he must face the problem of the many politicians on the far left who think we’re all too stupid to know what they’re saying when they try to sound clever.