The Boris Johnson campaign tonight launched its attack website against Ken Livingstone, Not Ken Again, slating the old chap’s “tired, regressive” policies, his plans to “reinstall his cronies at City Hall” and reminding voters of some of Ken’s greatest hits (campaigning against the Labour Party, working for the Iranian dictatorship, welcoming the suicide bomb-backing bigot Yusuf al-Qaradawi, etc.)
Indeed, even yesterday, Ken continued to defend Qaradawi, telling questioners who raised the issue at a campaign event in strongly-Jewish Barnet that “you shouldn’t smear a man you haven’t met. I met Sheikh Qaradawi. Am I to believe the Daily Mail rather than what I hear a man say with his own voice? Here was Sheikh Qaradawi saying, not just to me in private but the audience he addressed in City Hall and then to Paxman on Newsnight: No-one should discriminate against a homosexual. No man should physically assault his wife.”
I don’t know about the Mail. But the good Sheikh did tell that well-known tool of the right-wing lie machine, the Guardian, that he supported a husband’s right to “lightly” beat his wife, and that homosexuality was “a clash between morality and immorality.” In his own book , The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, not published by Associated Newspapers as far as I know, Qaradawi has reiterated his views on wife-beating and called for gay people to be killed. And Ken unfortunately forgot to mention that among Yusuf’s other statements on Newsnight was strong support for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. He has also defended rape, saying that “to be absolved from guilt, the raped woman must have shown some sort of good conduct.”
On two fronts, yesterday was a good reminder that the damage Ken’s opponents can do him with their attack websites and the rest is comfortably outstripped by the damage he does to himself. Also yesterday, Ken rolled out what he clearly thought was a bit of an Exocet – a claim that delays on the Jubilee Line between 14 November and 12 December were “300 per cent” higher and on the Victoria Line “100 per cent” higher than in the same four weeks in 2009. Station closures on the District Line, stormed Team Ken, were up by a “staggering 1250%” over the same period.
As TfL’s deputy chair, Daniel Moylan, was quick to point out, this just might have had something to do with the 24-hour strike by Ken’s Tube union allies on 28/29 November, which even by TfL’s admission massively disrupted services and closed at least a quarter of stations.
The heat was suddenly and uncomfortably turned back on Ken, who has received at least £137,500 in donations over the years from the Tube unions, whose running-mate Val Shawross joined a demo in their support recently, and whose campaign headquarters was in the head office of one of the striking unions. Ken has repeatedly refused to condemn the strikers – even though the grievance they are protesting over, ticket office closures, is the same policy that he himself pursued when he was Mayor.
There has, as I and others pointed out months ago, been a genuine decline in the performance of the Tube. It is a weakness for Boris and could have been an important issue for Ken. But just as with his other best issue, the Government cuts – where his position appears to be that there need be no cuts at all – he has undermined his credibility by overstatement. It’s another example of how, far from being the “wily” politician of cliché, Ken is actually a pretty hopeless campaigner.