Ken Livingstone’s mayoral running-mate, Val Shawcross, yesterday denounced Ken’s support for the Muslim extremist, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as a “misjudgment” and a “mistake” and criticised Ken for “not apologising sooner” for the “stupid and unpleasant things” he said to Oliver Finegold, the Jewish journalist he likened to a “concentration camp guard.”
Ms Shawcross confirmed to me today that she had said the remarks, to a mayoral hustings at a Jewish conference at Warwick University. It’s a very interesting development. My first thought was whether it could possibly be preparing the ground for a new approach by Ken, to try to reduce some of the huge cluster of negatives that surround him by admitting that he was wrong. It would be unprecedented, if so – and it does not seem to be the case.
Ms Shawcross told me that her remarks had not been discussed with Ken. “It was a Q&A. I didn’t discuss a script with Ken, I didn’t discuss the hustings at all [with him] apart from who would attend,” she says. “I was speaking in my capacity as a London Assembly member.”
Ken’s links with Muslim extremists are one of his most disturbing features. As mayor he channelled hundreds of thousands of pounds to a hardline mosque run by the Islamic extremist group, the IFE, and in return benefited from some, shall we say, interesting help from them at the 2008 election. Last year he campaigned against his own party in order to back the IFE’s candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman.
Ken also continues to defend Qaradawi, who has cost him support among liberals, gay people, Jews, feminists and democrats. As recently as March, he told 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.”
It is not the first time Shawcross has shown a clearer understanding than Ken himself of where his interests lie: last year, after her adoption as Ken’s official deputy, she fired a little shot across the great man’s bows over the Lee Jasper fiasco. “Ken didn’t attend to the nature and performance of his team as much as he should have last time,” she said. Ken, of course, continues to defend Jasper – even claiming, absurdly, that he has been “exonerated.”
If Ken is to be diverted from his suicide trajectory, he must apologise and admit his mistakes himself. That still looks highly unlikely. In the meantime, it’s come to something when you are criticised by even your own running-mate.
Update: Ken’s spokesman has contacted me to say that Ken is “very relaxed about Val’s comments.”