Ken Livingstone: four new lies every week throughout the campaign

Perhaps the key reason that Ken – if all the polls are to be believed – will lose on Thursday is that nobody trusts him. They are right not to.

Throughout the campaign I have been monitoring the lies that the two main candidates have told. The final tally is now in. I have counted each different lie only once, no matter how many times it, or variants on it, was repeated. Since January, on this basis, Ken Livingstone or his campaign have told at least 79 different lies, an average of more than four a week.

Boris Johnson and his campaign have told at least 12 different lies, an average of three a month.

Ken in particular has repeated some of his most significant lies – such as that his fares cut will save the average farepayer £1000 – dozens of times in different leaflets, direct mailshots or media interviews. I do not count such repetitions but if I did, it would add up to perhaps two to three hundred.

Over the next two days, I will itemise each lie in detail, starting today with the two men’s lies about their character, finances and personal behaviour.

Personal honesty

1.Claim: Ken told the New Statesman in February: “I think I have gone through my entire public career never telling a lie.” To the Guardian last week, he claimed: “I’ve always told the truth.”

Reality: See below.


2.Claim: My expenses as mayor were “minuscule.” (Ken, LBC debate, 3 April)

Reality: Ken claimed more than £50,000 on the City Hall credit card, including £256 for a pair of shoes, more than £6,000 on alcohol, £6,404 on first class flights to Florida and £466 for dinner with a Cuban translator.

3.Claim: “I only [claimed] about four lunches a year” as mayor (Ken, LBC debate, 3 April)

Reality: Ken charged 47 lunches or dinners on his corporate credit card alone in his second term as Mayor – one a month (links here and here.) He had countless other lunches or dinners at other people’s expense.

Use of actors in election broadcast which made Ken cry

4.Claim: “Contrary to some reports, the people in the video are not actors…all are genuine Labour supporters.”  (Simon Fletcher, Livingstone’s chief of staff)

Claim: “No actors were used in the broadcast.” (Labour spokesman, Guardian 14 April)

Reality: The South London Guardian has discovered that some of those who appeared in the film were actors, including an actor who dressed up in overalls and was filmed in McMullen Motors in London Road, Mitcham, pretending to be a mechanic. This actor took 40 minutes to get his lines right, according to Neil McMullen, the garage owner. Mr McMullen he was approached by the agency on the Saturday before and they brought in an actor for the filming on Tuesday. He said: “He did fluff his lines a bit. He was reading from one of those cards that had his lines written on it.”

“Rich Jews” meeting

5.Claim: Asked whether he had said in a private meeting that Jews would not vote for him becase they are rich, Ken described the claim as “completely untrue. It was a very good meeting.” (Ken, BBC, March 19)

He repeated this on Newsnight: “It’s completely untrue. I’ve never said that.” Asked: “They made it up?” he replied: “Yes.” (Ken, Newsnight, April 4)

Reality: The Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, who attended the meeting, wrote:  “I can confirm that the former mayor did make precisely that argument, linking Jewish voting habits to economic status, even if he did not baldly utter the words ‘Jews are rich.’” Ken now accepts he said this.

As for being a “very good meeting,” Ken now admits that it was “heavy going.”

“Positive campaign”

6. Ken has claimed to be running a “very positive campaign” and attacked Boris Johnson’s supposed “dark and negative” tactics.

Reality: Ken launched two major advertising campaigns depicting Johnson as a criminal, compared him to Hitler and his chief of staff to a Serbian war criminal, blamed him for the riots, said he should be poisoned, attacked him as a “part-time mayor,” said that he “wished for” high unemployment, and arranged for him to be chased by a man dressed as a giant chicken.

“Fresh team”

7.Claim: Ken says that his is a “fresh team for London.”

Reality: His principal evidence for this appears to be the presence of his running-mate, Val Shawcross, who was in fact his fire authority chair for the entire eight years of his mayoralty. The man running Ken’s campaign, Simon Fletcher, was Ken’s chief of staff for the whole eight years and Livingstone himself has been a full-time politician since 1971.

Tax avoidance

8.Claim: “I have paid 35 per cent of my income in tax.” (Ken, Evening Standard 19 April, Standard debate 11 April, Sky debate 19 April, BBC debate 22 April, and many other occasions)

Reality: Mr Livingstone channelled his six-figure earnings through a personal company, Silveta, jointly owned with his wife. He pays 20 or 21 per cent corporation tax instead of income tax at up to 50 per cent and avoids National Insurance (up to 9%) altogether. He does pay some further tax on any dividends he takes out of the company, but at a lesser rate.

He has admitted income-spreading, where he holds a large sum earned in one year as a cash pile in the company and takes it out in smaller chunks over several years to avoid higher-rate tax. He splits his dividends with his wife, benefiting from the fact that she pays no tax on dividends, to save further amounts of tax. He also claims generous tax-deductible expenses – some of them, including the salaries of staff for his campaign, probably not allowable.

His effective tax rate cannot be calculated because, alone among the candidates, he has refused to disclose his full earnings. However it is likely to be in the low twenties or below. Even on the false figures he has published, however, he pays less than 35 per cent.

9.Claim: “I have paid three times the average rate of tax” (Ken, Sky debate 19 April)

Reality: The basic tax rate in the UK is 22 per cent and the basic National Insurance rate is 12 per cent (9 per cent for the self-employed). Mr Livingstone, though earning six-figure sums, has probably paid less than the basic rate of tax and has avoided NI altogether.

10.Claim: Holding a cash pile in a personal company (£250,000 in Mr Livingstone’s case) is “not avoiding tax.

Reality: Mr Livingstone had earlier described precisely this practice as a “tax avoidance option.”

11.Claim: Ken has “no idea” how much his wife Emma Beal is paid by Silveta Ltd, which they set up to handle his private earnings. (Ken, Standard 19 April)

Reality: Mr Livingstone and Ms Beal are co-directors and equal shareholders of Silveta and must by law both agree the dividends they pay to each other. Mr Livingstone splits his income with her, even though it was earned entirely by him, to avoid further tax, benefiting from the fact that as a basic-rate taxpayer she pays no income tax on dividends. Her dividends are almost certainly exactly the same as those he has taken himself – namely £125,555 over the three years of the company’s existence. By paying this dividend to her, Mr Livingstone will have saved himself £31,000 in tax.

12.Claim: “All the candidates have published their tax returns.” (Ken, BBC debate 22 April and many other occasions) 

Reality: All the other main candidates have published full, accountant-certified statements of their earnings and tax. Only Mr Livingstone has refused. All he has published is details of the earnings taken out of his personal company, Silveta, not the earnings paid in. Even these figures are not certified by Mr Livingstone’s accountant.

13.Claim: “I’m quite happy to publish details of everything I’ve earned over the last four years.” (Ken, BBC Newsnight debate, 4 April)

14.Claim: Mr Livingstone’s certified accounts will be published “shortly” on his website (Ken spokesman, Evening Standard, 24 April)

Reality: Mr Livingstone has not done so.

15.Claim: “No journalist has contacted my accountant to ask anything about my tax arrangements. I’d be quite happy for them to do so.” (Ken, BBC London, 26 March)

Reality: Numerous journalists including the BBC, Evening Standard and myself have repeatedly contacted both Ken and his accountant asking about his tax arrangements and we have all been rebuffed.

16.Claim: “The simple fact is, and the hypocrisy of all this is, Boris Johnson has exactly the same arrangements [as me] to handle his earnings from television. Almost everybody in the media, who is not employed directly, has exactly the same arrangements.” (Ken, Guardian 12 March, LBC debate 3 April)

Reality: Johnson released full tax records showing he paid full income tax and NI on all his earnings and had channelled none of it through a personal company to avoid tax. Before becoming mayor Boris was briefly a director of a company called Finland Station, but the other directors, David Jeffcock and Barnaby Spurrier wrote to the Guardian saying: “The allegation that FS is or was in some way a ‘service’ company through which Johnson paid his freelance television earnings is completely untrue. Johnson was paid a pounds 30,000 fee by FS for writing and presenting After Rome, a two-part series for BBC2. This fee, as his accountant has made clear, was subject to income tax, not corporation tax or capital gains tax.

“Johnson received no dividends from FS. At no stage did he ever pay any money into the company. Nor was any money paid in on his behalf… nor were any members of his family remunerated by us in any shape or form.”

Payments to mother of secret child

17.Claim: Asked whether he had paid Jan Woolf, the mother of his secret son Liam, £6,500 from City Hall funds, Mr Livingstone replied: “No.” (LBC debate, 3 April)

Reality: The documents showing the payments to Ms Woolf’s personal company, Rootball Productions, are here.

Lee Jasper affair

18.Claim: “Despite all the smears by Andrew Gilligan, three separate investigations, including a committee of Tory council leaders appointed by Boris, the district auditor, and a two and a half year operation by the police, all concluded there was no evidence of corruption or cronyism under my administration.” (Ken, Guardian 26 March)

Reality:  The “committee of Tory council leaders” (the Wheatcroft review) found that “money was misspent on a massive scale” at Livingstone’s London Development Agency, which was “used as the Mayor’s chequebook” to “write some rather interesting pay-offs to people” and “poured money into projects that failed to deliver.”

The review strongly criticised “unusual” payments made to close female friends of  Lee Jasper, Livingstone’s disgraced race adviser, who was forced to resign after channelling £100,000 of City Hall money, for no clear purpose, to two organisations run by a woman he was proposing to “honey glaze” and “cook slowly before a torrid and passionate embrace.” It is true, however, that most of the key documentary evidence was missing by the time Wheatcroft got there (presumably because it had been destroyed).

The district auditor investigation ruled that Jasper’s behaviour in channelling grants to cronies was “not appropriate,” that he concealed his personal relationships with them in a “conflict of interest” and that his conduct fell below “the standards expected” from a GLA officer. The auditor was also hampered by missing evidence, but was able to establish that the grants to Jasper’s friends had not passed through the normal procurement process and that City Hall “could not demonstrate that [it] had achieved value for money” from any of the payments.

The police did, in fact, find enough evidence to recommend criminal prosecution against at least one of the cronies, though this was not pursued due to the man’s “ill health.”  No allegation of corruption was ever made. However, all three investigations confirmed the allegation I did make, of cronyism.

Freebies from Beijing regime

19.Claim: “I’ve done three visits in China, none of which I was paid for – all of it was done at my expense.”  (Ken, BBC debate, 22 April)

Reality: In August 2008, Mr Livingstone travelled to the Beijing Olympics at the expense of the Chinese regime, who gave him free business class flights worth £5,000 and a hotel room costing more than £1,000 a night. He then defended the regime’s human rights record.

Broadband system

20.Claim: “I proposed to Mrs Thatcher’s government when I was leader of the GLC – we wanted a broadband system linking every home and shop.” (Ken, BBC, 19 March)

Reality: Livingstone’s leadership of the GLC ended in 1986. Broadband did not exist at the time.

Fake battle bus

21.Claim: On 16 March Livingstone’s campaign issued what it described as a “picture of” its “Fare Deal Express” battlebus which would be touring the outer boroughs.

Reality: No battlebus existed at that stage. Instead, a picture of a regular London bus was taken from Wikipedia and crudely Photoshopped with Ken’s campaign logos.

Boris to abandon mayoralty early

22.Claim:  “I’ve no doubt whatseover, and I’d be prepared to bet money on this, that if [Boris] was elected mayor, he would seek a parliamentary seat for the 2015 election.” (Ken, Channel 4 News, 1 March).

Reality: Six weeks before Ken said this, Boris said: “I really don’t see how I can run for Parliament in 2015. Let’s kill this. I’m ruling myself out.

Poll standing

23.Claim: In the polls “me and Boris are both running ahead of our parties”  (Ken, ITV London, 23 February.)

Reality: Every poll taken since the race started has shown Livingstone running behind his party.



Return from holiday after the riots

1.Claim: “I did come back as fast as was possible” (Newsnight, 4 April and several other occasions)

Reality: Johnson did not come back as fast as possible. Speaking to the BBC on 6 August, the day of the first rioting in Tottenham, he said: “I am not going to come back at the moment because I have complete confidence in the police and I think that they are doing a very, very good job.” He did not return to London until the morning of the 9th, by which time the riots in the capital were over.

Next instalment: lies about transport.

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