Ken Livingstone's problem is his judgment, not his supposed 'homophobia'

Ken and a close male friend

Occasionally Ken’s chief media groupie, the Guardian’s Dave Hill, writes something which makes up for having to read his blog. Today was one of those days. In urgent need of an excuse to spin why his hero had described the Tory party as “riddled with” people “indulging in” homosexuality, called Margaret Thatcher “clinically insane” and warned gay bankers that they would “get their penises chopped off” if they moved to Dubai, Dave pleaded that Ken was merely indulging in “absurdist satire.” Pure PR gold! If anyone’s being satirical here, Dave, I hope it’s you…

When I read Ken’s interview, I ignored his remarks about gay people and wrote about something else he said because I hate Lee Jasper-style professional offence-takers. It was also depressing to see Labour try to counter Ken’s gaffe with an outraged sectional interest of its own, Boris’s unconscionable slurs against those paragons, Sinn Fein.  We must resist this New York-like attempt to carve us all up into little interest-group ghettoes.

Ken is not a homophobe – though it also feels rather out of date to describe him as an active supporter of gay rights. The slightly more nuanced truth is that gay rights was one of several causes he has adopted, then relegated from favour as progressive fashion changed. Other interests, with rather more votes at their disposal and strong views on “sexual deviance” claim priority these days.

Ken, like the rest of us, has the right to be offensive. The real question – as with all his previous outbursts – is whether it is sensible for someone in his position to exercise that right. Was it sensible to call Boris Johnson’s chief of staff a mass murderer, to advocate hanging the Chancellor, wish that Tory councillors would “burn in hell,” compare Boris himself to Hitler? These remarks may not tell us much about what he really believes, but the fact that he chooses to keep making them every few weeks tells us a great deal about his judgment.

For a long time, Ken has presented himself as the serious, competent alternative to Boris, who he described on his eve-of-poll leaflet in 2008 as a “joke.” Yet it is in fact Boris who has shown far greater discipline – not just in what he says, but also in policy. Ken’s rhetorical incontinence has been matched by his apparent willingness to promise anyone that they can have whatever goodies they want, without much of an idea of how it will be paid for. It can’t be long before this starts to fall apart. Is it, perhaps, he who is the real joke?

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