The Labour candidate in the Putney byelection has said he “detests” Ken Livingstone’s “tasteless and absurd” remarks about Eddie Lister, Boris Johnson’s new chief of staff.
Livingstone twice called Lister, former leader of Wandsworth Council, “the Ratko Mladic of local government” earlier this week. Eddie Lister is a cost-cutting local politician. Ratko Mladic is an indicted war criminal charged with mass murder, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Ken, as predicted, refused to apologise for the smear, saying he was “standing up for parents who face charges for their children to use playgrounds in a borough where affordable housing has been disregarded.”
But Christian Klapp, Labour’s candidate in the 30 June byelection for Lister’s old seat on the council, said: “Ken does not speak for me when he resorts to personal abuse. I detest that sort of campaigning, and I suspect Putney does too. The attack is tasteless and absurd, even by Ken’s standards.”
Other London Labour people aren’t happy, either. Mike Harris, a Lewisham councillor, tweeted: “Ken isn’t doing a great job at building his case.” One of the many London Labour MPs who opposed Ken’s selection as Labour candidate told me yesterday: “This is exactly the sort of thing I feared. The Tories are supposed to be the nasty party. But with Ken, the nasty party is us.”
The interesting thing about the “Mladic” incident is that it feeds into a much broader narrative of Labour discontent with Ken.
In a piece today Atul Hatwal, associate editor of the Labour Uncut website, unveils an analysis of YouGov polling which, he says, shows Labour’s 2 per cent lead in London in January (for Westminster) reduced to a 4 per cent deficit by this month. Since Ken lags well behind Labour’s Westminster rating, the implications for him must be even worse.
“2011 could go down as the year in which the Tories turned back a generation of Labour ascendancy in London and pulled decisively ahead,” writes Hatwal. “If Ken Livingstone acts to type in terms of his electoral strategy, then the results will likely be dire.”
Last month, Shamik Das, editor of the Labour-supporting Left Foot Forward website, condemned the “madness” of a previous Ken outburst, when he called Barack Obama a “mobster” for ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden. Judging by the Ratko incident, Ken doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson.
Last week, Thomas Rainsborough wrote in the Labour magazine Tribune: “There are some significant elements in the London Labour Party who are not particularly bothered whether Ken Livingstone wins or loses in May 2012. Some of them might actually prefer to see him defeated,” an outcome which Rainsborough calls a “distinct possibility.”
Ken’s latest foolishness hasn’t done much to disprove Rainsborough’s thesis.
PS: In the Wandsworth Guardian, Lister himself describes the smear as “cruel,” “pathetic” and “offensive” and talks about legal action. It wouldn’t be the first time Ken has had to apologise and pay damages to someone he’s libelled.