Ken Livingstone's extremist links: a 'remarkable intellect' hits back

Ken Livingstone campaigning for the extremist-linked Lutfur Rahman

Rabina Khan, Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet member for housing, penned a sharp attack today on the Evening Standard’s recent series of articles about the electoral roll shenanigans in Tower Hamlets, the Sharia-tinged administration of which she is part.

Ms Khan claimed that linking Lutfur with Islamic extremism was “simply risible.” Perhaps she’s forgotten that Lutfur lost a complaint on this precise subject against me and this newspaper at the Press Complaints Commission recently. The PCC ruled that it was “not misleading” to describe Rahman as “closely linked” to the extremist Islamic group, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), who control the East London Mosque.

Dozens and dozens of times over the last two years, this blog, this newspaper, and Channel 4’s Dispatches have produced copious evidence linking Lutfur with Islamic extremism. The main highlights of his career to last October are set out here. The IFE, the mosque and their allies have also made more than 200 complaints about us to the PCC and to the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. Every single one of those complaints has been rejected, too.

In her piece, Ms Khan angrily denied that Lutfur’s supporters were “homophobic.” In fact, the East London Mosque is perhaps the most powerful homophobic institution in London. As I and others have described, Lutfur’s most prominent supporter, Shiraj Haque, and other Rahman backers, have repeatedly homophobically heckled gay councillors from the public gallery in Tower Hamlets’ own council chamber. Rabina Khan’s cabinet colleague for education, Cllr Oli Rahman, has shared a platform at the East London Mosque, in his official capacity, with a group that campaigns against homosexuality. Her cabinet colleague for regeneration, Cllr Rania Khan, posted homophobic rhetoric on her social networking pages.

Rabina’s fear, of course, is that public disquiet about Lutfur will undermine his close ally, Ken Livingstone. At the election that brought Rahman to power, Ken broke with his own party to campaign for Lutfur, against Labour. Ken’s own links with the IFE are also close. In 2004/5 Ken’s London Development Agency (LDA) gave the East London Mosque hundreds of thousands of  pounds in to build a new headquarters for the IFE, even though the LDA’s own staff warned that there was “no case” for paying it the money. At the subsequent London mayoral poll – an election lost by Ken – senior members of the IFE managed to secure extraordinary swings, completely unreplicated anywhere else, towards Livingstone in Tower Hamlets and neighbouring Newham.

In recent years, Tower Hamlets has seen highly suspicious movements in its electoral roll – going up sharply in years with major elections, plunging back down when there are no elections, then shooting up again in the next election year. Many of the new names on the electoral roll (albeit in a community where people have common names) are the same as those of people we have identified as members of the IFE. This is what the Standard was getting at.

Since I last wrote about Lutfur’s administration, it has become even more of a public scandal. One of Lutfur’s councillors, Shelina Akhtar, has been sentenced to 16 weeks in jail for her second offence of benefit fraud. Quite incredibly, weeks after her imprisonment, she remains a councillor, collecting her full £200-a-week allowance.

Lutfur has been revealed to be paying £1,000 a day to a former senior LDA manager, one of a number of Ken “cronies” now employed at Tower Hamlets. Lutfur has even refused to answer questions from councillors at meetings, with one council officer explaining that to do so would “breach his human rights.”

Justifying this refusal, Rabina Khan herself explained that she and other members of Lutfur’s cabinet were perfectly well qualified to answer instead because of their “remarkable intellect.” In fact, as we have also described, Lutfur’s cabinet includes a tax avoider who bought himself a £48k Porsche; a former staff member at an IFE front organisation with a long record of encounters with the police; and a woman with pictures of knives on her social networking site (under the caption “I luv my weapons.”) This last charmer, Rania Khan, is the one who led the charge to shut down the sex displays, by the way.

Rabina’s “remarkable intellect” still needs a little bit of polishing, I think.

PS: Lutfur denies links to extremism.

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RIP Marie Colvin

Marie Colvin, who has been killed while reporting in Homs (Photo: PA)

My last meetings with the foreign correspondent Marie Colvin, who has been killed on duty in Syria today, were in Tripoli, just after Colonel Gaddafi’s compound fell to the revolution. We were all trying (and failing) to find drivers. There was virtually no traffic on the roads that day. Marie had no difficulty. She and her regular colleague Paul Conroy, the photographer, who has been injured today, swept up to my hotel on the back of a rebel machine-gun Landrover, having already been taken on a guided tour of the front line.

Until a day or so before, Tripoli had been cut off, encircled by rebel forces. At our last meeting of all, Marie – who was a great sailor – talked about how she’d planned to sail a yacht from Malta to get round the blockade. She would have done it, too, if events hadn’t overtaken her.

She was brave, and a fantastic writer, and got to all the right places at the right times. But most of all, she had style.

RIP Marie.

Boris v Ken: the first debate

Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone debated on the same platform yesterday at the Age UK London mayoral election hustings, the first time they have met since 2008. It was hardly a “spanking,” as one excitable Ken groupie panted. But it was, as the Standard’s Peter Dominiczak put it, a points victory for Ken.

Does that matter? Yes and no. In the real place that mattered – on television – the encounter was soundbites even. Most hustings are the mayoralty’s Via Dolorosa, with the candidates performing the appropriate ritual genuflections at each Station of the Cross to a backdrop of wailing from whichever of London’s sectional lobby groups, sorry diverse’n’vibrant communities, has hired a hall that day. The activists at most of these events don’t have much in common with ordinary voters.

The way you get a clap at a hustings is by promising to give the audience whatever it wants – free money always goes down particularly well – and Ken, untroubled by the need to make the sums add up, is much better at this than Boris. So we had £150 off your heating bills, 7 per cent off your fares, free bike hire for the over-60s and a new spending pledge to install lifts at dozens more Tube stations. At £100 million per station for the deep ones, that will be a pretty expensive round of applause.

But today did give us hacks an idea of the candidates’ strengths, weaknesses and the attack lines which will echo through our dreams in the weeks ahead. Ken’s lines were tactically effective while worsening his key strategic weaknesses of profligacy, hypocrisy and nastiness. “This isn’t the Bullingdon Club you know, you can’t interrupt,” was one typically charming thrust. He said Boris had only put up transport fares because he was too busy doing his “other job,” as a weekly columnist for the Daily Telegraph, to make savings at TfL. “I live a normal life in this city, I have a normal home,” said Ken. “[The salary of] £140,000 a year for mayor, I got by on that. I had no trouble whatsoever. If you can’t live on £140,000,you must have a very interesting lifestyle, that’s all I can say.” [Laughter and applause.]

Ken’s income in the last year for which figures are available was £284,000.

He again blamed Boris for the riots, saying: “Why the riots broke out was [because] when the relatives of Mark Duggan [the alleged gangster shot by police] went to Tottenham police station, the [Met] Commissioner wasn’t there to see them, the mayor wasn’t there to see them, the deputy mayor wasn’t there to see them.” Let us just say that few people will agree with this view.

There were also fascinating signs of what Ken’s polls must be telling him are his vulnerabilities. The humility soundbite was played for the second time in two weeks  – he confessed to having made “mistakes” (sadly unspecified, but don’t expect them to include anything that matters.) He also insisted, for the second time in two weeks: “I don’t think I’ve ever lied to you.” With a list of brazen lies longer even than his list of Nazi-themed outbursts, I think that statement must be one of the mistakes, Ken!

Yesterday also showed us some of Boris’s weaknesses. For the moment, his strategic problem is that he hasn’t announced any major manifesto policies. It may simply be that he judges it to be too early – Ken has almost certainly gone too early on his fares cut – but the campaign proper is effectively starting now, and it will not be enough for Boris just to say how efficient he has been. Running on your record never works, as Ken found last time. We’ve had some themes – lowering council tax; yesterday there was mention of driverless Tube trains – but they haven’t been properly launched yet.

A decent sweetie for this audience – a pledge to stop a (Labour-inspired) plan to raise the starting age for the Freedom Pass above 60 – was effectively launched in the Standard and in the TV coverage but didn’t seem to get through to the crowd in the room.

I thought that there was also a tonal weakness. It was the second time I have seen Boris fail to read an audience recently – his speech at the annual City Hall press reception fell flat, and for the same reason, that some of his lines felt like they’d been written by other people: they were standard political attack lines, not quite his voice.

Boris certainly needs to attack Ken – God knows there’s enough there – but his gentle mockery can be more damaging than a sharply-pointed thrust. Line I liked most yesterday, on the new Routemaster and bringing back bus conductors (a Ken election commitment in 2000): “I not only keep my promises, I keep ones the previous mayor failed to keep.”

All this needs to be kept in perspective, though. The Boris line the hustings audience liked least – “You are a massive, profligate waster of public money” – played absolutely fine for the real audience, on TV.

Ken Livingstone's fares cut will save Londoners little more than a tenth of what he claims

Renewed questions about the impact of Ken’s claimed 7 per cent fares cut on TfL’s revenue were triggered by Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, at the weekend when she endorsed most of the Coalition’s spending cuts on transport, including at TfL. The Tories were quick to pronounce that this made the Kenster’s big promise even more of an “unfunded sham” than they’d said already.

We’ve been over this ground before, haven’t we? TfL says Livingstone’s proposed fares cut will cost it £1.12 billion in revenue over the four years of a mayoral term – and more neutral sources than this blog, including Channel 4’s Fact Check, agree that Ken cannot make up that sum without cutting services or investment.

One new thing I just thought of, though, is the massive disconnect between these figures and what Ken is claiming his policy will save us. He has repeatedly said that his fares cut will “save the average Londoner £1000” over the four years. There are, conservatively, seven and a half million Londoners. If Ken is telling the truth about our average saving, that is a loss of revenue to TfL of 7.5 million times £1000. In other words, TfL would lose £7.5 billion, not £1.12 billion.

Losing £7.5 billion would, of course, pretty much shut down the transport system. It is more than ten years’ subsidy to the entire bus network, or almost half the cost of Crossrail. The alternative – I know you’ll be shocked to hear this – is that TfL’s estimate of its losses is correct, and Ken is lying about what Londoners will save.

Dividing £1.12 billion by 7.5 million people produces an average saving per Londoner over the four years of £149.30 – little more than a tenth of what Ken claims. The average saving per year will be £37.32 – 72p a week.

Not all that different, in other words, from the Boris Johnson cut in council tax (in this and future years) which Labour has been scoffing at – the only difference being that, with Ken, you get a cut in investment too.

Ken Livingstone's ranting down the years: your cut-out-and-keep guide

Ken this week engraved yet another page in his golden treasury of indefensible outbursts, pronouncing that we should “hang a banker a week.” This one went global – Dutch bankers, for instance, could read about Ken wanting to “hang elke week een bankier op,” just the thing to make them feel like moving their business to London. Ken’s spokesman protested to the FT that he’d made the remark “20 or 30 times” before, perhaps not the most brilliant defence ever mounted….

To allow my readers to assess Ken’s famous self-discipline and judgment, here is my list of his main Tourette’s moments as mayor or mayoral candidate, by the date they were first reported. What terrible passions must swirl in this old head! You’ll notice a particular, shall we say, interest in the Third Reich – I particularly loved the way he managed to crowbar Hitler into an attack on the performance of the Northern Line (7 March 2011).

The list is not exhaustive, or I’d be here all day. And note too that it only includes memorably crass statements, not crass policies – or I’d be here all week.

April 2000: Ken complains that press coverage of his financial affairs makes him look like a “Nazi war criminal.”

April 2000: Ken tells NME magazine: “Every year the international financial system kills more people than World War Two. But at least Hitler was mad, you know?”

24 June 2000: After his election as mayor, Ken says British local government has “no more independence than the Vichy regime in France under the Nazis.”

18 May 2001: Livingstone attacks English Heritage as “the biggest threat to the economic vitality and well being of Londoners since Adolf Hitler.” The heritage watchdog has blocked plans for a “very attractive” skyscraper by Gerald Ronson, one of Ken’s donors.

17 November 2001: Livingstone renews his attack on English Heritage over its opposition to the Ronson scheme, calling it “the Taliban of architecture.”

24 November 2001: Ken says that British Muslims who went to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban (presumably not in an architectural capacity) should not be prosecuted. “We’ve got to accept that these people went off because of a deep sense of injustice about what’s happening in Israel and the West Bank,” he explains.

9 May 2003: On the eve of a campaign to woo American tourists to London, Ken calls George W.Bush a “coward,” the illegally-elected president of a “venal and corrupt administration” and says the US government should be overthrown in the same way as Saddam was overthrown.

31 August 2003: Ken says he is not interested in sport because most PE instructors in his schooldays were “rehabilitated Nazi war criminals.”

17 March 2004: Livingstone says Tory housing policies “created the same scale of housing shortage that Hitler created with five years of bombing.” He promises to “crush” any council that opposes his development plans.

8 April 2004: Ken tells the Guardian: “I just long for the day I wake up and find that the Saudi royal family are swinging from lamp-posts.”

July 2004: Ken hosts the extremist Islamic cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi at City Hall, proclaiming him a “great liberal voice” and later comparing him to the reformist Pope John XXIII. Qaradawi has explicitly supported wife-beating, suicide bombing and the murder of homosexuals and has said that “to be absolved from guilt, a raped woman must have shown good conduct.”

10 January 2005: Defending Qaradawi at a debate in the London Assembly, Livingstone attacks a gay Green assembly member who criticised the visit, Darren Johnson, as “thoroughly dishonest,” “pandering to Islamophobia” and being “used as a stooge by a Zionist front organisation.” He claims that another gay opponent of the visit, the activist Peter Tatchell, has a “long history of Islamophobia.”

10 February 2005: Livingstone harangues a Jewish Evening Standard journalist, Oliver Finegold, asking him whether he was a “German war criminal” and saying he was “just like a concentration camp guard.” He has always refused to apologise to Finegold, saying that he should not have been working for “a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots” with “a history of supporting fascism.”

21 March 2006: Ken tells the Jewish property developers David and Simon Reuben, with whom he is in dispute, to “go back to Iran and try their luck with the ayatollahs, if they don’t like the planning regime or my approach.”

23 March 2006: Informed that the Reubens are actually of Iraqi origin, and were born in India, Ken says: “I would offer a complete apology to the people of Iran to the suggestion that they may be linked in any way to the Reuben brothers. I wasn’t meaning to be offensive to the people of Iran.”

23 March 2006: After the Tory assembly member Brian Coleman accuses Livingstone of anti-semitism, Ken says Coleman is “like Dr Goebbels.”

28 March 2006: Livingstone calls the US ambassador to London, Robert Tuttle, a “chiselling little crook.”

9 April 2006: On a visit to China, Ken refuses to condemn the Tiananmen Square massacre, comparing it to the poll tax riots. “In the same way that Trafalgar Square has had an interesting history, not always a peaceful one, there’s a very clear parallel,” he said. “We’ve had some interesting riots in Trafalgar Square – I mean, only 20 years ago, the poll tax riots, and flames licking up.”

24 October 2006: Livingstone says that discrimination against British Muslims, and French moves to ban the hijab, “carry echoes of Nazi Germany.”

27 March 2007: Ken uses Japan’s role in World War II to attack its embassy for not paying the congestion charge, telling LBC radio: “I think there are several problems with Japan that we could go on about here. Admitting their guilt for all the war crimes would be one thing. So if they’ve not got round to doing that, I doubt they’re too worried about the congestion charge.”

14 February 2008: Livingstone loses his temper with the London Assembly, ranting that they are “sanctimonious hypocrites, every one of you” during their questioning of him over Lee Jasper. When the chair of the meeting calls on him to respect the assembly, he snaps: “Respect has to be earned. You haven’t earned it.”

10 January 2009: On Radio 4’s Today programme, Ken compares the situation in Gaza (then under Israeli bombardment) to the Warsaw Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland.

7 March 2011: Ken says Tube performance under Boris is “the worst since Hitler was bombing London in the Blitz.”

4 May 2011: Ken attacks President Obama as a “mobster” for ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden.

7 June 2011: Ken describes Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, Edward Lister, as the “Ratko Mladic of local government.” Ratko Mladic ordered the deaths of 7,000 people at Srebrenica. Edward Lister proposed to charge for the use of a children’s playground.

26 June 2011: Livingstone describes Liberal Democrats as a “venal sub-species.”

18 August 2011: Ken compares Boris Johnson to Adolf Hitler, saying the mayoral election is “a simple choice between good and evil…I don’t think [the choice] has been so clear since the great struggle between Churchill and Hitler.”

18 August 2011:  Ken says that anyone who does not vote for him will be punished by the Angel Gabriel, will “burn for ever” and have their “skin flayed for all eternity.”

2 November 2011: Ken’s fiery furnace contracts a bit as he tells Tory councillors in Hammersmith & Fulham that they will “burn in hell” and have their flesh “flayed by demons for all eternity.” Their crime? Redeveloping a council estate.

17 November 2011: Ken asks at a public meeting: “How many people think we should hang George Osborne?”

8 February 2012: Ken says the Tory party is “riddled with” people “indulging in” homosexuality, while claiming that some Labour MPs only got jobs because they were gay.

9 February 2012: Ken warns gay bankers not to leave London, saying: “Would you want to get your penis chopped off? A gay banker would get his penis cut off in Dubai.”

17 February 2012: Ken says that Britain should “hang a banker a week until the others improve.”

Boris Johnson's new bus: only twelve days to go as another city dumps bendies

In the city of York, just as in London, the utter unsuitability of bendy buses became a political issue. At last year’s York elections, just as in London, the incumbent party was defeated by a rival which promised to scrap the “costly disaster” of the bendy bus. Ken Livingstone types slagging off the removal of their beloved junction-blockers as a Tory plot should know that York’s victorious anti- bendy party was… Labour.

In accordance with their election promise, York’s new Labour rulers have announced that the council-subsidised bendy bus service will end in April. The bendies will be replaced by double deckers. What a shame.

In accordance with his election promise, Boris’s new open-platform Routemaster hits the streets of Hackney on February 27 for its first day carrying fare-paying passengers (passengers more likely to be paying their fares than on the bendies, anyway.) Bus-spotters will need to set their alarm clocks: the maiden voyage, on route 38 to Victoria, leaves Hackney garage at 6.09am. (TfL’s timekeeping fairy has been in action again – the first day has just been put back from the 20th.)

There are only two of the buses to begin with, so for the moment most of the 38 will still be run by the old double-deckers. There will be no Borismaster service, for now, at the weekends or at all on the northernmost extremity of the route, between central Hackney and Clapton Pond (there are thought to be concerns about the social makeup of the Clapton neighbourhood, with an over-concentration of lower-echelon media figures.) But on Mondays to Fridays there will be buses in each direction throughout the day and evening from Day One.

The buses will leave Hackney Central at 0609, 0708, 0753, 0927, 1031, 1221, 1321, 1507, 1611, 1743, 1942, 2026, 2211 and 2253.

They will leave Victoria at 0657, 0812, 0904, 1044, 1148, 1338, 1438, 1619, 1725, 1857, 2055, 2136, 2317 and 2353.

I will be riding on the first day (if probably not at 6am) unless the Daily Telegraph sends me off on another foreign job, as it infallibly has at all previous milestones in this story. I will also be running a competition, with prizes, for the stupidest and most joyless piece of lefty sour-grapes about the new bus – get thinking now!

Ken Livingstone: trust is his key weakness

Boris Johnson is back in the lead in the latest YouGov mayoral poll in today’s Standard – but by only two points, within the margin of error. On the basis of the last three polls, the race remains neck-and-neck.

What has halted Ken’s momentum? Two things: after weeks in which Labour was given the pitch to itself, Team Boris has finally started to campaign, a bit. This suggests that when they start to campaign properly they might be able to open up a clearer lead.

The second is what has always been Ken’s greatest weakness: trust. In 2008, as now, he outpolled Boris on such questions as being “in touch.” As now, he had the more popular policies on nearly all the issues.  But he still lost, because voters thought he was less honest than Boris.

Today’s poll shows that only 44 per cent trust Ken to deliver his key campaign pledge, a 7 per cent fares cut (hard to blame them, given his track record). Forty per cent say he wouldn’t do it. Since the previous poll on this subject (by a different pollster, so not strictly comparable) the large number of don’t knows has fallen sharply, breaking more against Ken than in his favour. As memories of January’s fare rise fade, has he shot his bolt?

Here are some other insights from the detail of the poll.

1. Ken is doing quite well in outer London. On the “forced-choice” question, excluding don’t knows, he is only four points behind Boris, 48-52, quite a lot closer than in the past. I hear that the Ken campaign has been heavily phone-canvassing in the outer boroughs – it seems to be bearing fruit.

2. Ken’s touching belief that voters remember his mayoralty as a golden age of competence and effectiveness, compared with the slide into social collapse under Boris, is wrong. Fifty-nine per cent think Boris is doing his job well – a key finding – and 35 per cent think he is doing it badly (a positive of +24 points.) The comparable figures for Ken’s mayoralty are 55-36 (a positive of +19.)

3. Boris has recovered a good chunk of the “Boris Labour” support he had – that is, people who voted Labour at the 2010 general election, or intend to vote Labour at the next one, but will vote for him in May. Twenty-one per cent of those who say they voted Labour in 2010 will vote for him (up from 17% last month; in June 2011 it was 23%). Sixteen per cent of those who currently back Labour for Westminster will vote for Boris (up from 11% last month; in June 2011 it was 21%.)

4. Ken’s vote seems a bit softer than Boris’s. Twelve per cent of Ken voters said there was a fair chance that they would switch to Johnson and a further one per cent said there was a good chance they would switch. Only ten per cent of Boris voters said there was a fair chance they would switch to Ken; none said there was a good chance.

5. Ken’s links with the Tube unions are a weakness. Fifty per cent of voters agree with the statement that “Ken Livingstone’s financial backing from unions compromises his ability to run TfL,” against 32 per cent disagree. Disapproval of Boris’s support for the City is substantially less.

6. Ken still lags massively behind his party, which is 12 points ahead of the Tories in London. How Labour must be kicking itself for choosing him – if they had picked someone else, the election might be essentially over by now.