It’s clear that Ken Livingstone remains the favourite for the Labour Party’s mayoral nomination. But there are signs that market sentiment is moving away from him.
The influential Political Betting website echoes one of my concerns – that Ken has simply failed to move on from his 2008 defeat. Today’s Guardian article by Jonathan Freedland – doubting both Ken and Oona, and calling on Labour to re-open nominations – is especially interesting, given the paper’s hysterical support for Livingstone in 2008, and the touching, continued fealty of some of its lower-level operatives. As Freedland notes, “you don’t have to be ill-disposed to either candidate to worry about their chances of defeating the current mayor.”
Ken’s groupies normally dismiss all those, such as myself, with doubts about the great man as evil, fork-tailed spawn of the Tory lie machine. It’ll be hard to do that with these two: Freedland, in particular, will be read by a lot of the potential voters in this contest.
One of the key techniques of extremists – of both the Islamic and the white Right – is to frighten and polarise their target audiences with exaggerated claims that they are widely disliked or are under attack. As well as helping recruitment, it furthers the extremists’ central lie that different races and faiths cannot coexist.
That is why it was so depressing to see today’s Guardian fall for a textbook distortion by one of these groups. A news story reported that “three quarters of non-Muslims believe that Islam has provided a negative contribution to British society, according to a new poll.”
The “poll” was not in fact a poll, using a representative sample of sufficient size and publicly reported according to the strict standards of the British Polling Council. It was a market research questionnaire of a small (500) and random sample. And though it appears to have been done by a professional firm, its results were totally twisted by iERA, the group which commissioned it, and whose claims the Guardian took entirely at face value.
iERA’s executive summary of the “findings” of this “poll” (page 8 of this PDF) does indeed claim that “75% believed that Islam and Muslims had provided a negative contribution to society.”
But the detail tells a rather different story. As page 21 of the same PDF shows, the actual number who believed that Islam and Muslims had provided a negative contribution to society was 36% – less than half what iERA claimed.
The executive summary (and the Guardian) also claimed that “63% did not disagree with the statement that Muslims are terrorists.” Gosh, do two-thirds of the public really believe all Muslims are bombers?
No, they do not. The proportion who agreed with the statement that “Muslims are terrorists” (page 23 of the PDF) was in fact only 24% – significantly less than the number (37%) who disagreed. A further 39% neither agreed nor disagreed. In this and in all the other questions, iERA achieved its headline-grabbing figure only by ignoring (or misrepresenting the views of) the large number of people who were neutral.
The agenda behind these inflammatory lies can be found in about two minutes on Google. iERA’s advisers include Bilal Philips and Zakir Naik, both banned from the UK by the Home Secretary; Haitham al-Haddad, who believes that music is a “fake and prohibited message of love and peace;” and a number of other people with utterly odious, anti-democratic views. The iERA “researcher” quoted by the Guardian, Hamza Tzortzis, is, as I reported in January, deeply in bed with extremism.
It is not the first time the Guardian has done this. Earlier this year, it publicised a report which claimed to have found a rising tide of anti-Muslim violence in London – something simply not supported by the crime figures (which is presumably why the report coyly neglected to give any figures!) This report was co-compiled by a well-known sympathiser of Islamism, Robert Lambert, and funded by the Islamist Cordoba Foundation.
Nobody should deny, of course, that there is bigotry against Muslims in Britain. But all the indicators – racial attacks in Muslim areas, the BNP’s rout at the recent election – are that it is diminishing. And if some people do think Muslims are a threat to British society, then the views peddled by the likes of iERA are partly to blame.
I continue to be astonished at Ken Livingstone’s utter determination to repeat, almost word-for-word, the messages that lost him the last election. Gas-guzzler charge – check. Defence of Lee Jasper – check. As one Labour blogger says, after hearing him at a hustings, it’s like he’s been cryogenically frozen.
Last week came the latest creaking heritage replica from the Ken playbook. During the 2008 campaign, he and Labour colleagues repeatedly claimed that Boris Johnson would cut the Freedom Pass – an obvious lie, since the Mayor of London has no power over the pass (it is run and funded by the London borough councils, not City Hall.) Of course, no such cuts have happened, and the scope of the pass has in fact been extended.
Now, Ken is making the exact same charge against his opponent for the Labour nomination, Oona King – even though her transport manifesto pledges to “defend the Freedom Pass” and states explicitly that “there will be no reduction in the scope or scale of the Freedom Pass while I am Mayor.”
Could the words “scope or scale” provide wriggle room for means-testing, something which she’s been accused of contemplating at a couple of the hustings? No, says King in an email to supporters: “Claiming that I favour a means test for the Freedom Pass… is simply not true….If the Freedom Pass is cut [by councils or the Government] I will fight to find the money to replace the lost funding.” Unwisely, perhaps, she goes on to say that if the Mayor had to step in to rescue the scheme, and if there was no money at all in her budget to fund it, then there could be cuts for the wealthiest pensioners – but it’s clear that that describes an eventuality which even the Con-Dem government has explicitly promised will not happen.
It is noticeable over the last few days that even Ken’s little helpers in the blogosphere have not taken this one up, and a claim needs to be pretty rocky for that not to happen. Botoxing up this wizened old smear is yet another sign of the Ken campaign’s complete intellectual brain-death.