Ken Livingstone looks on as Tories try to make him a public joke

One of the risks for Ken Livingstone, lacking as he is in self-awareness, is that he becomes a figure of fun. The old boy’s dogged determination to stick it to Boris Johnson for his links to Murdoch – even though Ken himself had far closer links – gave the Tories an open goal at Wednesday’s Mayoral question time in the London Assembly.

With Ken looking on from the gallery, this was supposed to be the moment when Labour finally nailed the evil Johnson regime. Instead, after a serious 20 minutes about the awfulness of News International’s behaviour, it became a double-act between Boris and the Tory assembly members at the expense of that much-loved vaudeville turn, K.Livingstone Esq.

Andrew Boff (Tory AM): I think it’s very important to ensure that the mayoralty cannot be compromised by undue influence. Bearing in mind when [the hacking] took place [during Ken’s term of office], can I ask the mayor to look into the meetings the previous Mayor had with News International?

Boris (grinning broadly): Is this the guy who’s been popping up attacking me for having meetings with journalists?

Boff (innocently): Oh, I wasn’t aware – did he comment?… Could you also, Mr Mayor, look into any contracts that may have been entered into with the Murdoch dynasty?

Boris (mock surprise): Contracts? Involving taxpayers’ money?

Boff: Yes, contracts with the Murdoch dynasty, with Freud Communications [owned by Murdoch’s son-in-law].

Boris (mock incredulity): You’re joking!… I think it would be unbelievable and monstrously hyprocritical, would it not, if the previous Mayor, having broken bread with the hirelings and the leaders of Rupert Murdoch’s group, were then to attack any other person for doing so…wouldn’t it be an unbelievably opportunistic thing to do?

Boff: I think, I’m not sure, that the contract includes a jolly to China that the previous Mayor took.

Boris: Was GLA taxpayers’ money being paid to the Murdoch dynasty?

Boff: I think it was, Mr Mayor.

Boris: That’s unbelievable. What, you mean the thing I terminated as soon as I got in? I think you’ve opened a very fruitful avenue of enquiry! (Laughter)

Labour’s Len Duvall pointed out that what he called “Fraud Communications” was not part of News International. But then in came Dick Tracey on Ken’s relationship with NI itself.

Tracey: Talking about boot-licking News International, do you know there have been 26 bylined articles in NI newspapers since the hacking scandal broke in July 2009? The byline, Mr Mayor, is Ken Livingstone.

Boris (putting on serious expression): You’re joking. I sincerely hope no payment was received! It would be unbelievable, would it not, if cash actually went from agencies of the Murdoch empire into [Ken’s] pockets. Do you think that can have happened?

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Iraq dossier: MI6 concerned about its claims 'from the outset'

As we all obsess with the forthcoming inquiry into the press, the inquiry into something slightly worse than hacked telephones – the deaths of 150,000 people in Iraq – continues to produce startling revelations.

Today it published the redacted testimony of a senior MI6 officer who stated that “there were from the outset concerns” in the intelligence service about “the extent to which the intelligence could support some of the judgments that were being made” in Tony Blair’s famous WMD dossier.

Note those words: from the outset. This directly contradicts the testimony of Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, and John Scarlett, then chair of the joint intelligence committee, to Hutton.

To my mind, it is even more damning than the quote that’s making news today: the officer describing Alastair Campbell as an “unguided missile” about whom MI6 had “concerns.” (What those concerns exactly were has been helpfully blacked-out from the published testimony.) “We suffered from his propensity to have rushes of blood to the head,” the officer says.

“There was very substantial pressure [from Downing Street] to generate new intelligence,” said the spook. “We were, in all honesty, not well placed to do that…. Some of the newer material was, so to speak, being torn off the teleprinter and rushed across to Number 10 with, shall we say, a little more haste than was probably appropriate…

“The pressure to generate results, I fear, did lead to the cutting of corners…We were probably too eager to please.”

This adds to the disclosure by the great Chris Ames in the Observer two weeks ago of a memo in which John Scarlett, Campbell’s co-conspirator in sexing up the dossier, talked about “obscuring the fact that, in terms of WMD, Iraq is not that exceptional.”

And in May, Michael Laurie, former senior intelligence official, said: “We knew at the time that the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war rather than setting out the available intelligence.”

It is becoming even clearer than it was before that my story about the sexing up of the dossier was true. And it is becoming ever harder for Chilcot to perform a whitewash. But the fact that all this is only coming out now – nine years, and four official inquiries, after the dossier – demonstrates the failure of official inquries, and the success of journalism, at getting to the truth. Let’s hope the judge in charge of the latest inquiry into the press realises that, shall we?

Lutfur Rahman charges taxpayers £72 a day for luxury Mercedes

For Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, nothing is too good for the workers. First he spent £115,000 of taxpayers’ money to treble the size of his office. Now, as the East London Advertiser reports, the public is forking out £72 a day to drive Lutfur around in an E-class Mercedes.

If the vehicle is used five days a week, that is just under £19,000 a year. If it is used seven days a week, it is £26,000. This appears to be the leasing cost for the vehicle (and a quota of petrol) only. Lutfur also has a chauffeur, who appears to be taken from a pool of council-certified drivers. With salary, pension and employer’s NI, this could bring the annual cost of the Lutfurmobile to as much as £60,000.

At the same time as increasing spending on himself, Lutfur is making cuts of £70 million to Tower Hamlets’ spending on other people.

The elected mayors of neighbouring Newham and Hackney make do with their own cars, or public transport. The mayor of that not insignificant place, London, often rides a bike. None of them has an official car and chauffeur. Tower Hamlets is a very small borough with excellent public transport and very limited on-street parking. It is also a very poor borough. It will be interesting to see how Lutfur’s useful idiots on the far left spin the latest example of his progressive behaviour.

As I have always said, the takeover of Tower Hamlets by Lutfur and his backers is not simply about Islamisation. It is about self-enrichment at the expense of one of the poorest communities in the UK. More examples of that in the days and weeks ahead.

Ken Livingstone and Rupert Murdoch: it really was love

Ken’s attempts to make political capital out of Boris Johnson’s supposed “links” to the evil Murdoch empire are starting to look ridiculous as further evidence emerges that his links to News International were far closer than Boris’s have ever been.

I pointed out last week that Ken has twice had spells as a paid columnist for that great flagship of Murdochian progressive values, The Sun: the second spell came months after the hacking scandal had  well and truly broken. But I forgot to mention that, after his defeat in 2008, he also had a regular column in Murdoch’s unmourned featherweight freesheet, the London Paper.

While he was still Mayor, Ken loved the London Paper, because it was (a) not the hated Evening Standard and (b) never did any actual journalism about him (or anything else.) In the small gaps between items about Amy Winehouse it did, however, run regular pat-ball interviews with Ken and was duly rewarded with vast amounts of advertising by the mayor’s agencies, mostly Transport for London. Some days TfL had three full-page ads in the paper; it seems likely that it only stayed afloat as long as it did through massive injections of City Hall (ie our) money. Just over a year after Ken lost his job, it went the way of the News of the World.

On that sad day, Ken’s chief of staff and campaign manager, Simon Fletcher – by far his closest and longest-serving aide – described Murdoch and his paper as “a good thing for London.” He was undoubtedly a good thing for Ken – but despite what all too many of Livingstone’s supporters think, Ken and London are not quite the same.

One of Ken’s attacks on Boris was that he had had (horrors!) a number of meals with James Murdoch and other News International executives. The brazen hypocrisy of this charge has now been exposed by the Spectator’s David Blackburn, who has gone back through City Hall records to reveal that Ken… had meals with James Murdoch. And the editor of the London Paper, Stefano Hatfield. And attended Rupert’s summer party. And paid Murdoch’s son-in-law, Matthew Freud, £350,000 a year for PR, despite having his own massive in-house PR department (this contract was cancelled by Boris, to Freud’s fury – more about that, perhaps, at a later date.)

As I’ve said before, political claims don’t have to be true – but they do have to be credible. Ken’s claim to be a hammer of Murdoch is about as credible as his claim to be a foe of the bankers, or a holder-down of Tube fares.

Ken Livingstone's memory loss continues over hacking

Ken has been trying terribly hard in the last few days to associate those war criminals at City Hall with the News of the World hacking scandal, storming that “a better Mayor would have pursued the facts and pressed the police harder.” It’s certainly true that Boris Johnson’s response to the allegations in September 2010 doesn’t look so good now.

At the time, Boris said: “Unless there are significant new facts brought into the public domain that change the police case and make necessary a fresh look at it, I don’t propose to change my view.” He called the allegations “codswallop cooked up by the Labour Party.”

Since last year, of course, significant new facts have emerged – above all last week’s shocking revelations about the phone-hacking of a murder victim – and Boris has dramatically changed his view. He says he knew nothing of those facts when he made his “codswallop” statement.

This is, as it happens, the exact same defence deployed by the man who was mayor at the time when the hacking actually happened, and when a NotW journalist, Clive Goodman, was jailed for it – yet also did nothing to “pursue the facts and press the police harder.” Now what was the name of that mayor again? Oh yes, Ken Livingstone!

Here’s what Ken had to say to the BBC’s Tim Donovan yesterday when he was asked about it. He believed, he admits, that the hacking was “a one-off” and “assumed that it was just this [the Goodman] case.”

Note that Ken describes the hacking issue when he was mayor as an “operational” one he couldn’t interfere in. Only once an attack needs to be made on Boris does the same behaviour become a sickening lapse of judgment.

But the specific “operational” aspect of the issue – the criminal investigation into Goodman – ended with his jailing in January 2007, more than a year before Ken left office.

And note also the careful phrasing of Ken’s first answer – “the Commissioner never brought to me any issue relating to any current case that was proceeding” – which seems to leave a fair amount of wriggle room. Did the Commissioner, in fact, brief Ken about the wider issue? Or did someone brief him about the case when it was over? Or did someone other than the Commissioner brief him? And could Ken’s long-standing links with News International have played a part in his decision to keep quiet?

As with TfL fares and several other issues, Ken’s own record seriously weakens what could have been an effective attack. It’s another reason why Labour would have done better to get a newer candidate without quite so much baggage.

Tim Donovan interview, Sunday 10 July

KEN: The Commissioner never brought to me any issue relating to any current case that was proceeding, and I don’t think it would be right to do so. The first time I knew there was something really bad here was about a year ago, when a Guardian journalist told me there was much more to come out.

Q: Hang on. Hacking by a newspaper of royalty and celebrities? Did you ask, did you speak to the Commissioner at the time, and ask him, how far does this go?

KEN: No, no. Because we thought that’s all it was. I assumed that it was just this case, it was –

Q: You just assumed? You didn’t ask, even though a Sunday newspaper reporter is jailed? You never asked him, you never wanted assurances?

KEN: No. Because we were told that’s where it went.

Q: You were told? Told by whom?

KEN: That’s what was in the media, that this was a one-off, and I think a lot of us believed that. I’d always thought that my phone was bugged by MI5, not journalists.

Q: Wait a minute, did you believe it was just a rogue reporter at the time and it wouldn’t have gone any further? Did you not want to ask questions?

KEN: As I said, I challenged the head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller. I said you’ve been bugging my phone for years. She denied it, I didn’t believe that.

Q: This is about royalty, so you didn’t ask, you didn’t want to have any assurances from them at all, on your watch?

KEN: The mayor has no operational control over the Met. Where I was unhappy about things I would raise them, about the conduct of police at a public demonstration and so on. But there’s a clear dividing line. I think it was only about a year ago, when the Guardian was telling anyone who wanted to listen that there was a real big problem here, that this then took on – that’s the point I would have asked.

Q: But as we’ve now established, if someone, if a mayor, or senior figure in the Met Police Authority at the time had bothered to say how far does this go, what else should we be looking at, that’s not interfering in operational matters.

KEN: If any journalist had come to me and said, there’s a lot here that’s been covered up, I would have asked the police. But nobody did. And that’s the problem.

Ken Livingstone memory suffers from Sun-stroke

I always love Ken’s attempts to blame Boris Johnson for absolutely everything that’s gone wrong in the world, from global warming to the death of Shergar. Now, game as ever, the old boy is trying to drag City Hall’s despised blond gauleiter into the News of the World hacking affair.

In the last 48 hours, the Kenster has issued no fewer than three press releases excoriating Boris over the hacking story. He’s even been down to the pavement outside Scotland Yard to record a special denuciation video, available at the evocative URL of http://www.kenlivingstone.com/ codswallop.

“Boris Johnson had at least two meals with Rebekah Brooks, one dinner and one lunch with James Murdoch, and one dinner with Rupert Murdoch,” stormed Ken in one release. It was, he said, a sign of his “dire judgment…the full extent of his relationship with News International and how much the phone-hacking story was discussed between them must be revealed.”

Senior politician has meals with News International executives – surely unprecedented, and not something, of course, that any Labour politician has ever done? And though the Met, of course, failed shamefully in the hacking probe, isn’t its investigation of specific crimes an operational matter of the kind that Boris has no jurisdiction over – and has in the past been fiercely attacked for interfering in?

The other problem, alas, is that Ken has forgotten to “reveal the full extent” of his “relationship with News International.” Let us take, for instance, this heart-warming column from The Sun on 19 February last year – seven months after The Guardian first broke the hacking scandal.

“You used to be able to go to the cinema without taking out a second mortgage,” said a certain man-of-the-people columnist. “Last week I took my two smallest kids to the cinema in London and had to shell out £23 just for the three of us to get in.” True, only too true. There was a showbiz par (“Four years ago I had the good luck to work with Girls Aloud in Shanghai”), a policing item (“Trevor Kavanagh was right to damn bent cop Ali Dizaei in Monday’s Sun”)  and even some political analysis about guess who (“the only people Boris has put himself out for are the bankers.”)

This particular celebrity, according to the Factiva database, has had no fewer than 26 bylined articles in News International newspapers since the hacking scandal broke in July 2009. In the autumn and winter of 2009/10, he was a regular standby columnist, appearing every few weeks. In the 1990s, he was an even more regular columnist for The Sun.

This celebrity has, in short, taken much more from Rupert Murdoch than a couple of free lunches – more than enough to pay for a few cinema tickets, no doubt. In 2008, he was even given space in The Sun to defend himself against the “frame-up” of a certain Lee Jasper.

The name of this celebrity columnist? Ken Livingstone. Would that, I wonder, be the Ken Livingstone who condemns Boris Johnson for having a relationship with News International, or a totally different one?

PS: More Ken Sun columns in the days ahead. These gems of popular journalism should not be denied a wider audience.

Great Ormond Street tries to lie its way out of trouble

I have described in the past how Great Ormond Street Hospital has provably lied to try to counter stories about its failings in the Baby P case. The hospital employed the doctors at the Haringey child protection clinic which missed Baby Peter Connolly’s broken back.

In May 2009, I revealed that all four consultants at that clinic had warned Great Ormond Street management, in writing, a year before Baby P’s death that there was a “high risk” of a tragedy because the place was so understaffed. After my story, Great Ormond Street’s chief executive, Jane Collins, claimed that the consultants’ concerns had been “addressed at the time.

The truth, alas, is that after the consultants’ letter, GOSH reduced the number of consultant posts at the clinic still further, from four to three, and removed the consultant identified as the ringleader of the protest, Dr Kim Holt, from her job: a post to which she has still not been reinstated. By the time Baby P came to the clinic, all four of the experienced permanent consultants had been either removed, had left in disgust, or gone sick, and he was seen by an inexperienced locum. The hospital subsequently admitted that Ms Collins’ statement “could be seen as disingenuous” and removed it from its website.

In December 2009, Dr Holt told me that Great Ormond Street had offered her £120,000 to “buy her silence” – an offer she refused. In response, Great Ormond Street lied again, claiming the offer of money “took place before any specific concerns were raised by [Dr Holt] around child protection.” In fact, the offer was made eighteen months afterwards, and I’ve seen papers which prove it.

Last month, we learned that Great Ormond Street “covered up” the findings of an internal inquiry into the Baby P case, editing it to remove serious criticisms of itself before passing it on to the external “serious case review.” Great Ormond Street claims it did this on police advice. Last week, the police told the BBC that this was not true.

On Sunday, I published a report, based on leaked emails and documents, about broader failings in patient care and deep dissatisfaction by medical staff in the hospital. It included the statement that Great Ormond Street’s quality rating had been “steadily downgraded in recent years by the NHS inspectorate, the Care Quality Commission, from ‘excellent’ to ‘good’ to ‘fair.’”

In an email to staff yesterday, passed to me, Ms Collins said: “I want to correct the statement in the Telegraph that the hospital’s quality rating has been steadily downgraded. For last year, we would have been awarded ‘excellent’ had the ratings system not been abolished. Our previous rating of fair (not poor, as the Telegraph claimed) arose from long waiting times in only one specialty, where there were national capacity issues.

“Once again, I want to dispute claims that individuals are making (again, anonymously) about being “targeted” for raising patient safety issues.”

Well, if you’ve read the article you’re probably ahead of me. We never claimed that the hospital had ever rated poor. (In fact, as you might expect a hospital chief executive to know, there is no such rating – the bottom rating is “weak” – and we never claimed the hospital had rated that, either).

Two of the individuals who have been targeted were not anonymous – they were named in the piece. And as for Ms Collins’ claims that Great Ormond Street was not “steadily downgraded,” here is the evidence. “Excellent” in 2006/7 goes down to “Good” in 2007/8 and down again to “Fair” in 2008/9 (published last year, and the last available verdict before the ratings system was abolished.) Ms Collins may think she would have been back up to “excellent” by now – but the whole point of rating systems, alas, is that you can’t rate yourself.

Kim Holt is very lucky to have as her MP the superb Lynne Featherstone, who has been fighting her constituent’s corner for the last three years. The hospital has been sabre-rattling against her as well, publishing on its website a, shall we say, unsatisfactory account of its dealings over the issue. Ms Featherstone has now published her response – and she, too, accuses Great Ormond Street of “concealing” and “misleading.”

This kind of behaviour is always a deeply telling sign of an institution in real trouble. Ms Featherstone has called on Ms Collins to resign, and says that if what is known now had been known at the time, she would have gone three years ago, along with Haringey’s Sharon Shoesmith. I agree.