Ken Livingstone vs Oona King: focus on sleaze

Oona King, Ken Livingstone’s opponent for the Labour mayoral candidacy, is starting to focus on one of Ken’s greatest vulnerabilities – sleaze.

Last week, at the GMB union hustings, Ken became angry and defensive when the subject of cronyism and his disgraced adviser, Lee Jasper, was raised. Appearing with Ken on BBC1’s Politics Show on Sunday (40 or so minutes in), King returned to the attack, calling for an independent commission to vet the mayor’s hires. “I think there’s been cronyism, the perception of cronyism without a shadow of a doubt, with both the mayors we’ve had so far,” she said.

In the same interview, Ken conceded that Jasper had helped do for him in 2008. The more interesting question is whether the scandal still has the power to hurt him now – and on this evidence, I’d say it does.

On Sunday, to a surprising degree, Ken continued to display the same stubborn denial of reality which got him into such terrible trouble two years ago. He actually claimed that Jasper had been “cleared” and that various enquiries had found “no evidence” against him,” adding: “No-one has come up with any wrongdoing. In the end he went not because of any wrongdoing about funding groups, but because he had inappropriate emails with a woman. That was it.”

Perhaps I should remind Ken that far from “clearing” Jasper, the main independent inquiry – by the District Auditor – actually concluded that his behaviour in channelling grants to organisations run by his friends and business associates was “inappropriate,” that “the standards expected” of a GLA officer “were not followed” and that Jasper concealed his relevant interests.

The Auditor found that City Hall “could not demonstrate that [it] had achieved value for money” from the funding of any of the organisations and reported that there was no “documentary consideration” of whether value could be achieved.

And those “inappropriate emails,” in which Jasper proposed to “honey-glaze” a married woman, Karen Chouhan, and “let [her] cook slowly before a torrid and passionate embrace?” Well, what was “inappropriate” about them was not their language, excruciating though that was. It was the fact that Jasper personally channelled at least £100,000 of City Hall money to two organisations run by Mrs Chouhan (or, as he put it in the emails, his “gorgeous, wonderful, sexy Kazzi”) without declaring his relationship with her. The very organisations, in fact, whose funding the District Auditor found could not be justified!

As I’ve always said – and as the BBC interviewer, Tim Donovan, himself closely involved in exposing the scandal, also pointed out – it wasn’t the allegations themselves which hurt Ken the most, but his head-in-the-sand response to them. Oona should be thrilled that he seems determined to repeat the performance.

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