Rushanara Ali, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, has accused Ken Livingstone of “coming into my constituency and playing divisive politics” and told him that she will withdraw her support for his re-election “if he behaves the way he did previously.”
It is a pitch-perfect slapdown of Ken for his astonishing decision to campaign against the official Labour candidate in the October 2010 election for the mayor of Tower Hamlets, and lend his support instead to Lutfur Rahman, a man sacked as the Labour candidate because of his close links with Islamic extremism.
Ken’s action caused real fury in the local Labour Party, particularly since Lutfur’s mayoralty has now turned into a bit of a meltdown. For a list of all his controversies to October last year, see here. Since then, the toll has continued to mount: one of Lutfur’s key councillor supporters has acquired her second criminal conviction for fraud (Lutfur has so far refused to demand her resignation) and a Lutfur cabinet member – in charge of £70 million of taxpayers’ money – has been exposed as a tax-avoider (no resignation there, either.)
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Ms Ali said Ken’s behaviour was “completely unacceptable,” adding: “The entire national executive and the Labour Party, nobody was happy about his behaviour. He should know better. He is a leading member of the Labour Party with a high profile, and coming into my constituency and the borough of Tower Hamlets and playing divisive politics, essentially not backing-up your party at a very difficult time, was a low point in his recent political activity.”
She said that while she was currently campaigning for Livingstone, “that support is of course conditional. If he behaves the way he did previously, in the last executive mayoral election where he couldn’t even support his own party’s candidate, then there will be plenty of people on the ground that will not feel motivated to campaign for him. And it’s very difficult for us, however much we may try, to mobilise and activate our activists and constituents if that kind of confusion is created again.”
As I reported last year, dislike of Ken in Tower Hamlets Labour runs so deep that one of his senior campaign staff, Paul Harrington, had to convene a special meeting to beg Labour’s own councillors to support him. But Ms Ali speaks for a much wider Labour family than Tower Hamlets. Critics like me are regularly denounced by the Ken groupies for attacking the great man. But the fact is that really significant numbers of Labour’s own London MPs, council leaders and thinking party members cannot stand him either. Indeed, of the 44 London Labour MPs I know of only five, possibly six, who sincerely support Ken. I also know at least three who will not even vote for him at the forthcoming election. It’s partly personal – he does have a habit of making unnecessary enemies – but it’s partly also because they oppose the fossilised politics he represents.