Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Evening Standard Should Apologise Forthwith

There has been a lot of rambling in the newspapers recently regarding comments that Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, made to a Jewish Evening Standard reporter at the back end of a party he was attending. Livingstone referred to Oliver Feingold, the reporter, as a "concentration camp guard", and stuck by his remarks after Feingold informed him that he was Jewish. Much of the ensuing discussion has referred to the comments as anti-Semitic; Livingstone has stood by the comments he made. Indeed, he has gone so far as to refuse calls from Tony Blair to retract his remarks.

The first point to be made here is that likening someone's actions to a "concentration camp guard" is not anti-Semitic. The comments were foolish, extraordinarily insensitive and guilty of ridiculous hyperbole, but not actually racist in any way. Indeed, while you would think this was conduct unbecoming of an elected official, it scarcely seems to be worth the massive fuss that it has caused - particularly when you consider that Livingstone's support for far more offensive radical Islamic clerics has not attracted similar levels of derision.

However, at the time this storm was brewing, the IOC inspection team was visiting London ahead of the decision for the location of the 2012 Olympics. The press have decided that holding the Olympics in London will be a Good Thing, and London is currently festooned with posters urging everyone to "back the bid". Although not a reader of the Evening Standard, it appears to me that it has suddenly been decided that Livingstone's comments will cast a shadow over the entire episode and so London will not be selected for the Games (which, in any case, still seems a long shot to me).

This is complete claptrap. The London bid will have many strengths and shortcomings and they will be identified in due course. What the Mayor (who will not be Mayor in 2012) said is ultimately of little consequence to the entire process. If, indeed, it would cast a shadow over the inspection then the whole bid must be so weak it wasn't worth bothering about in the first place.

So why would the Evening Standard want to link Livingstone's comments to the hosting of the Olympics? As I mentioned before, it has been decided that holding the Olympics would be a Good Thing. The subconscious message inherent within the exhortations to "back the bid" is that to fail to do so is somehow against the best interests of London and the country.

Therefore, to invent the myth that Livingstone's comments jepoardise the campaign allows the Evening Standard to continue its vendetta against the man by portraying him as a self-interested newt acting against the best interests of the capital. Indeed, if the bid now fails they will lay the blame squarely at Mr Livingstone's door. A shoddy trick designed to manipulate public opinion in a way which is totally and utterly unrelated to the matter at hand.

Which is why I am now calling on the Evening Standard to apologise for its complete overreaction to this matter. I don't want to be an apologist for Livingstone, but he is dead right when he refuses to make a public apology for statements that he is prepared to stand by. There are many reasons for castigating him, but blowing an issue like this up in such a manner is not one of them. It's fine to call upon Livingstone to apologise. But to try and pretend it has any bearing on the London bid for the Olympic Games is ridiculous.