Ken has been trying terribly hard in the last few days to associate those war criminals at City Hall with the News of the World hacking scandal, storming that “a better Mayor would have pursued the facts and pressed the police harder.” It’s certainly true that Boris Johnson’s response to the allegations in September 2010 doesn’t look so good now.
At the time, Boris said: “Unless there are significant new facts brought into the public domain that change the police case and make necessary a fresh look at it, I don’t propose to change my view.” He called the allegations “codswallop cooked up by the Labour Party.”
Since last year, of course, significant new facts have emerged – above all last week’s shocking revelations about the phone-hacking of a murder victim – and Boris has dramatically changed his view. He says he knew nothing of those facts when he made his “codswallop” statement.
This is, as it happens, the exact same defence deployed by the man who was mayor at the time when the hacking actually happened, and when a NotW journalist, Clive Goodman, was jailed for it – yet also did nothing to “pursue the facts and press the police harder.” Now what was the name of that mayor again? Oh yes, Ken Livingstone!
Here’s what Ken had to say to the BBC’s Tim Donovan yesterday when he was asked about it. He believed, he admits, that the hacking was “a one-off” and “assumed that it was just this [the Goodman] case.”
Note that Ken describes the hacking issue when he was mayor as an “operational” one he couldn’t interfere in. Only once an attack needs to be made on Boris does the same behaviour become a sickening lapse of judgment.
But the specific “operational” aspect of the issue – the criminal investigation into Goodman – ended with his jailing in January 2007, more than a year before Ken left office.
And note also the careful phrasing of Ken’s first answer – “the Commissioner never brought to me any issue relating to any current case that was proceeding” – which seems to leave a fair amount of wriggle room. Did the Commissioner, in fact, brief Ken about the wider issue? Or did someone brief him about the case when it was over? Or did someone other than the Commissioner brief him? And could Ken’s long-standing links with News International have played a part in his decision to keep quiet?
As with TfL fares and several other issues, Ken’s own record seriously weakens what could have been an effective attack. It’s another reason why Labour would have done better to get a newer candidate without quite so much baggage.
Tim Donovan interview, Sunday 10 July
KEN: The Commissioner never brought to me any issue relating to any current case that was proceeding, and I don’t think it would be right to do so. The first time I knew there was something really bad here was about a year ago, when a Guardian journalist told me there was much more to come out.
Q: Hang on. Hacking by a newspaper of royalty and celebrities? Did you ask, did you speak to the Commissioner at the time, and ask him, how far does this go?
KEN: No, no. Because we thought that’s all it was. I assumed that it was just this case, it was –
Q: You just assumed? You didn’t ask, even though a Sunday newspaper reporter is jailed? You never asked him, you never wanted assurances?
KEN: No. Because we were told that’s where it went.
Q: You were told? Told by whom?
KEN: That’s what was in the media, that this was a one-off, and I think a lot of us believed that. I’d always thought that my phone was bugged by MI5, not journalists.
Q: Wait a minute, did you believe it was just a rogue reporter at the time and it wouldn’t have gone any further? Did you not want to ask questions?
KEN: As I said, I challenged the head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller. I said you’ve been bugging my phone for years. She denied it, I didn’t believe that.
Q: This is about royalty, so you didn’t ask, you didn’t want to have any assurances from them at all, on your watch?
KEN: The mayor has no operational control over the Met. Where I was unhappy about things I would raise them, about the conduct of police at a public demonstration and so on. But there’s a clear dividing line. I think it was only about a year ago, when the Guardian was telling anyone who wanted to listen that there was a real big problem here, that this then took on – that’s the point I would have asked.
Q: But as we’ve now established, if someone, if a mayor, or senior figure in the Met Police Authority at the time had bothered to say how far does this go, what else should we be looking at, that’s not interfering in operational matters.
KEN: If any journalist had come to me and said, there’s a lot here that’s been covered up, I would have asked the police. But nobody did. And that’s the problem.