Ken Livingstone's amazing act of self-harm

Some people who write about London politics, notably the Guardian’s Dave Hill, fall into the fatal trap of hearing only the evidence they want to hear and dismissing or ignoring evidence which contradicts their preconceptions (he’s been on particularly spectacular form over the current Tower Hamlets elections.) Although my readers can probably guess what I think about, say, Ken Livingstone, I try not to do that. Every so often, I ask myself whether I’m underestimating Ken. Could he actually be preparing some sort of reinvention, acknowledgement of where he went wrong and amazing comeback?

Today’s YouGov poll showing him only two points behind Boris – in contrast to a ComRes one only a fortnight ago where he was nine points adrift – is  further food for those sorts of thoughts. Am I really right to see Ken as a likely loser? But then he always does something which only confirms my view that he is just not serious about winning London and that his candidacy is, indeed, probably doomed.

Because also today, Ken performed an act of political self-harm amazing even by his own standards. He appeared in Brick Lane to support the fundamentalist sympathiser Lutfur Rahman, who was sacked as Labour candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets last month because of deep concerns about his links with Islamic fundamentalism and with a group of powerful local businessmen (one of whom, Shiraj Haque, is standing next to Ken in some of the pictures of today’s event.) Lutfur also signed up entire families of sham paper members to win selection. In various legal actions against the Labour Party, Lutfur uses a solicitor who has frequently spoken from the platform at meetings of al-Muhajiroun, the banned pro-terrorist group.

This is the man, now running as an independent, that Ken is openly campaigning for – against the official Labour candidate, Helal Abbas, who Ken strongly bad-mouthed today.

Why on earth would Ken want to do this? What possible advantage does stepping into this swamp offer him? There are no votes to be gained here: he got the Tower Hamlets fundamentalist crowd on board long ago, and they’ve been giving him some very special help locally. But there are thousands of votes to be lost. Ken’s enthusiastic embrace of Islamism, of Yusuf al-Qaradawi (who has justified rape and suicide bombing) and his racial insults towards Jews did him real damage in 2008. His backing for Lutfur will revive all those concerns. If Boris’s ruthless Australian campaign team handles this properly, it could be worth a lot to them.

There is also the minor point that supporting an opponent of the official Labour candidate is grounds for automatic expulsion from the Labour Party. Eleven people have already been thrown out for supporting Lutfur. Ken obviously feels that such rules are for the little people – but even many of his supporters are aghast at his behaviour.

If Ken is to have even a chance of winning in 2012, he will need every ounce of help which Labour (by some measures, significantly more popular than he is) can give him. Yet if he is not prepared to give Labour his loyalty, how can he expect its members’ loyalty in return? He obviously thinks this is a re-run of 2000, with Lutfur as the victim of dirty tricks. It really isn’t, as he and we may be unlucky enough to find.

Because there are now two ways this could go. Lutfur could lose, in which case it just might offer those who know that Labour made a terrible mistake selecting Ken the chance to revisit that decision.

Or Lutfur could win – which might be even worse for Ken. He would take some of the blame for the defeat of a Labour candidate – and for the victory of a man who, if elected, will rapidly turn into a scandal. Every council contract awarded to Lutfur’s business cronies, every council pound that goes to fundamentalists will, to some extent, be associable with Ken.

What an idiot the man is!

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