21 May 2018

Ken Livingstone quits Labour Party

As recently as this Easter, the Labour leader’s team was signalling internally that it didn’t want to expel Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party. But the heat of the anti-Semitism row in the party and its impact on the local elections seems to have changed that calculation. Ken Livingstone’s continuing suspension was seen by some as proof of the party’s fundamental lack of seriousness about the problem.

A year ago the party’s National Constitution Committee passed by the opportunity to expel Mr Livingstone. There had already been a file prepared on his original alleged breach of rules, comments on Hitler and Zionism made in a radio interview in 2016 . The leadership didn’t want to go ahead so the suspension dragged on.

Since then the party has compiled a case against Mr Livingstone based on all the follow-up interviews he gave after the original offending one. In interview after interview, it alleges, Mr Livingstone embarrassed the party and/or brought the party into disrepute. In total it is thought something like a dozen interviews were cited in the file.

Mr Livingstone says his lawyers suspected that it could take up another two years of his life defending himself against the charges. Mr Livingstone says this was an autonomous decision and he informed the leadership of it yesterday.

But senior Labour sources say there was a change of heart at the top of the party about Mr Livingstone and the price the party was paying by not expelling him.  His resignation solves that problem for his old allies, now in the Labour leadership, and few think Ken Livingstone wasn’t aware of the change of heart at the top.

He was out of the party for a while when he took on Labour’s official candidate, Frank Dobson, in his first tip at the post of London Mayor. That ended happily with a victory in 2000 and then readmission to the Labour fold. This departure doesn’t look like it’s on a similar course.

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