Ken Livingstone forced to stop taking Iran's money

Ken Livingstone (Photo: AP)
Ken Livingstone (Photo: AP)

Eight days ago, after it became clear that Ken Livingstone, Labour’s official candidate for Mayor of London, had taken thousands of pounds from Press TV, the Iranian dictatorship’s official TV channel, he told BBC London News that he would not resign. Ken stated: “Press TV is one of the few TV channels anywhere in the West that fairly presents the Palestinian case,” adding, quite falsely, that Press TV was “a British company, wholly owned in Britain, that makes and sells programmes to Iran and to other places”.

He has compared working for Press TV to working for Fox News, though as far as I am aware Fox’s owners have never tortured people, killed homosexuals or stoned adulterers to death.

Today, it has been announced that Ken will, after all, be stepping down from the channel, though not until March. His spokesman denied that he had been ordered to do so by the party – and claimed he always intended to stop. Now if that was the case, why didn’t he tell us last week?

I’m told that when ITV’s London Tonight asked a Labour Party spokesman about Ken’s Iranian gig, they said words to the effect of “What? Are you serious?” Since we know that Ken doesn’t do U-turns, at least not when he’s in the wrong, it seems clear that somebody from Labour must have put the thumbscrews on their suicide candidate.

As one commenter on the Standard’s story points out, Ken’s decision may also not be entirely unconnected to the fact, reported in the paper, that Press TV’s bankers have frozen its British account and plan to close it.

Ken has presented at least 17 shows for Press TV – not seven, the figure today’s Standard gives – and on such politically-correct topics as “the invention of the Jewish people” and “Zionist Israel and apartheid South Africa”. He will have earned around £8,500 from these shows.

(Declaration of interest: I too presented a show on Press TV, though I gave up the year before last. Voluntarily.)

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Tony Blair at the inquiry: important admissions

Watch Tony Blair live at the Iraq Inquiry
Watch Tony Blair live at the Iraq Inquiry Photo: Reuters

Tony Blair often seemed keener to talk about Iran, or Afghanistan, or Libya, or almost anywhere other than Iraq this morning. But he did make some potentially important admissions.

He appeared to concede that the threat from Iraq had not changed in 2001/ 2 – only that his “perception” of that threat had changed, in the light of 9/11. This raises two difficulties.

First, of course, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and no links with al-Qaeda; Mr Blair was forced into a series of hypotheticals – if Saddam had passed WMDs to terrorists, and so on? As one of the Chilcot panel, Sir Roderic Lyne, reminded him: “But it’s these ifs, isn’t it?”

Second, more importantly, it directly contradicts Mr Blair’s key claim to Parliament before the war, where he insisted that the Iraq threat – the actual threat, not just the perception – was “growing.”

Asked by Sir Roderic: “Was the intelligence telling you it was growing?” Mr Blair referred to a Joint Intelligence Committee assessment saying not that the threat was growing, but that it was “continuing.” His second piece of evidence of a “growing” threat was the alleged mobile biological weapons labs. But as the JIC assessment (quoted in full in Annex B of the Butler Report) says, this programme had been there since 1995.

It wasn’t the only time Mr Blair appeared to misrepresent intelligence. Asked for the intelligence to justify another dubious claim, that the “assessed intelligence” had established Saddam’s WMD “beyond doubt,” he cited a 15 March 2002 JIC assessment that said it was “clear.” In fact, as far as I can see, the word “clear” does not appear in the JIC assessment of that date.

Mr Blair was also taxed about his claim to Parliament, on 16 July 2002, that Britain was not planning for possible military action. By that point Britain had, in fact, been planning for possible military action for at least two months. He appeared to concede that he had misled MPs, saying: “In retrospect it’s maybe better just to say it.”

Mr Blair’s “sexing up” of the intelligence to make the case for war was, of course, a claim first made by me in May 2003. His answers today won’t have helped his case that he acted properly.