Ken Livingstone and Lee Jasper: latest news from the power couple

My post on Ken Livingstone’s plans to share a platform with his disgraced former race adviser, Lee Jasper, next week prompted an emergency mobilisation of the groupies. One of Ken’s most trusting fans broke almost a month’s silence on his blog to assure us that the Once And Future Mayor had “confirmed” he would not reappoint Jasper if re-elected.

Ken himself suddenly discovered a pressing “family commitment” rendering him unexpectedly unavailable to speak alongside his former aide. Even Jasper, with characteristic good taste, has today tweeted: “I will not be rejoining Ken’s team if re-elected. Done my time on the plantation.” Comparing a City Hall job paid £127,000 a year to slavery tells you more about Lee Jasper than I ever could.

Ken’s promise over Jasper, on the day of his resignation, was clear: “I bet my own life that they will clear Lee Jasper, and I will reappoint him when they do.” Jasper wasn’t cleared, of course – he was condemned in a report by the district auditor – but that hasn’t stopped Ken repeatedly claiming that he has been.

I have a feeling that the latest Ken “confirmation” may well be on a par with those other Ken confirmations that he would “save the Routemaster,” “hold down” the congestion charge to £5 until 2013 and “reinstate” the charge’s western extension zone.

Actually, it’s more than a feeling. The chairman of Ken’s re-election campaign, David Lammy MP, was guest of honour a few weeks ago at a meeting of Jasper’s new front organisation, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC – geddit?) Jasper himself spoke alongside him.

And as the blogger Mark Wallace has noted, there’s also something oddly similar in the words used by both Ken and Jasper to describe the death while under arrest of the reggae singer Smiley Culture. Jasper has been leading a campaign over the death – and was quoted in the Standard on 5 April saying that the black community is at “boiling point” over the issue. Ken, who is definitely, definitely not being advised by Jasper, was quoted in the Sun on 26 April as saying that the black community is at “boiling point” over the issue. (Jasper, by the way, claims that the press just get him mixed up with Ken. That was precisely Ken’s problem at the last election, as it happens.)

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Ken Livingstone and Lee Jasper: a friendship reborn

Lee Jasper (Photo: Julian Simmonds)
Lee Jasper (Photo: Julian Simmonds)

Older readers may remember Lee Jasper, the £127,000-a-year Ken Livingstone race and policing adviser forced out in a cronyism scandal, who came to stand for everything that was sleaziest about Ken’s City Hall. In recent months, despite Ken’s denials, the signs have been growing that Ken, if re-elected, is preparing to do what he promised in 2008 – and bring Jasper back.

Next week, according to emails sent out by the organisers, Ken and Jasper will share a platform for the first time since the scandal, at the May Day rally in Trafalgar Square no less. It will be a major boost to Jasper’s attempts to rebuild his presence on the London political stage. He has started turning up at City Hall, on his old beat, recently disrupting a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority in protest at the death while under arrest of a man charged with serious drug offences. And Ken strongly defends Jasper, hosting him several times on his LBC radio show and claiming that he has been “cleared” and that various enquiries have found “no evidence against him…no-one has come up with any wrongdoing.”

The truth, alas, is a little different. Jasper was forced to resign after channelling tens of thousands of pounds of public money, for no clear purpose, to a company run by Karen Chouhan, aka “my darling Kazzi,” a married woman who he wanted to “honey glaze,” “whisk away to a deserted island beach” and “cook slowly before a torrid and passionate embrace.”

Millions more went to other organisations run by some of Jasper’s other friends, many of them based in the same small room at a business centre in Kennington and virtually none of them delivering anything in return for the cash. To this day, substantial sums remain unaccounted for.

The main independent inquiry into the affair, by the District Auditor, condemned Jasper’s behaviour as “not appropriate” and “below the standards expected” of a GLA officer. It found that Jasper had concealed his relationship with Chouhan and that there was no documentary evidence to show why the money had been paid to her company. Even Livingstone himself conceded, in an LBC interview on 6 March 2008, that Jasper had “breached absolutely” the GLA’s code of conduct.

I can, of course, understand Jasper’s obsessive need to lie and rewrite history – but Ken’s use of the same tactics is a little more puzzling, and can be explained only if he is planning a future for his ex-race advisor.

Ken Livingstone vs Oona King: focus on sleaze

Oona King, Ken Livingstone’s opponent for the Labour mayoral candidacy, is starting to focus on one of Ken’s greatest vulnerabilities – sleaze.

Last week, at the GMB union hustings, Ken became angry and defensive when the subject of cronyism and his disgraced adviser, Lee Jasper, was raised. Appearing with Ken on BBC1’s Politics Show on Sunday (40 or so minutes in), King returned to the attack, calling for an independent commission to vet the mayor’s hires. “I think there’s been cronyism, the perception of cronyism without a shadow of a doubt, with both the mayors we’ve had so far,” she said.

In the same interview, Ken conceded that Jasper had helped do for him in 2008. The more interesting question is whether the scandal still has the power to hurt him now – and on this evidence, I’d say it does.

On Sunday, to a surprising degree, Ken continued to display the same stubborn denial of reality which got him into such terrible trouble two years ago. He actually claimed that Jasper had been “cleared” and that various enquiries had found “no evidence” against him,” adding: “No-one has come up with any wrongdoing. In the end he went not because of any wrongdoing about funding groups, but because he had inappropriate emails with a woman. That was it.”

Perhaps I should remind Ken that far from “clearing” Jasper, the main independent inquiry – by the District Auditor – actually concluded that his behaviour in channelling grants to organisations run by his friends and business associates was “inappropriate,” that “the standards expected” of a GLA officer “were not followed” and that Jasper concealed his relevant interests.

The Auditor found that City Hall “could not demonstrate that [it] had achieved value for money” from the funding of any of the organisations and reported that there was no “documentary consideration” of whether value could be achieved.

And those “inappropriate emails,” in which Jasper proposed to “honey-glaze” a married woman, Karen Chouhan, and “let [her] cook slowly before a torrid and passionate embrace?” Well, what was “inappropriate” about them was not their language, excruciating though that was. It was the fact that Jasper personally channelled at least £100,000 of City Hall money to two organisations run by Mrs Chouhan (or, as he put it in the emails, his “gorgeous, wonderful, sexy Kazzi”) without declaring his relationship with her. The very organisations, in fact, whose funding the District Auditor found could not be justified!

As I’ve always said – and as the BBC interviewer, Tim Donovan, himself closely involved in exposing the scandal, also pointed out – it wasn’t the allegations themselves which hurt Ken the most, but his head-in-the-sand response to them. Oona should be thrilled that he seems determined to repeat the performance.

Lee Jasper: last post for a while, but a good 'un

I seem to have written rather a lot about Lee Jasper in the last few weeks – sorry – but the following historic event cannot go unrecorded. Tomorrow, at the Friends Meeting House in Euston, Ken Livingstone’s former race adviser will be appearing alongside a woman named Karen Chouhan. For the first time in public, Londoners will be able to re-live The Relationship Which Sunk A Mayoralty.

Until 4 March 2008, as far as the world knew, Mrs Chouhan was just a salt-of-the-earth diversity outreach consultant and professional “visionary” (as she described herself on her Companies House records). And if her companies did seem to receive an awful lot of money from City Hall, while not doing terribly much in return, that was surely just a tribute to her skills at cross-sector stakeholder engagement?

But on that fateful day, thanks to the year’s most embarrassing set of leaked emails, we learned that at the same time as Mr Jasper was signing the City Hall cheques to Mrs Chouhan’s companies, he was also proposing to “honey glaze” Mrs Chouhan, “whisk [her] away to a deserted island beach” and “let [her] cook slowly before a torrid and passionate embrace.”

She wasn’t Mrs Chouhan in those messages either – she was his “darling,” his “gorgeous, wonderful, sexy Kazzi,” – and he was the “General.”  Mr Jasper didn’t declare this relationship, as City Hall rules required. Within four hours of the emails’ publication, he was unemployed, and Ken’s campaign to keep his own job was holed below the waterline, too.

I don’t mention this just to mock – though the temptation is irresistible – but because of the sheer brazenness of the people involved. Tomorrow is another part of Jasper’s renewed bid to make a comeback in public life. The Chouhan incident should remind us all why that is not a good idea.

PS: The event’s hosted by Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote – Jasper’s representative on earth, defender of the great man in various radio and TV studios and himself a former director of two of the Jasper crony organisations, including one of Chouhan’s. Amazingly, Woolley has recently been made a £500-a-day commissioner of the government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. I know the EHRC has suffered a lot of resignations recently, but really…

Ken Livingstone: farewell to the last of the cronies?

If you want the place where Ken Livingstone’s political career ended, an office building down a side street in Kennington is probably it.  Offley Works, owned by Ken’s London Development Agency, was Lee Jasper Central, the headquarters of the main crony organisations run by friends of the Mayor’s race adviser who got rent-free accommodation and further millions from the taxpayer while doing nothing visible in return. Viewers of the BBC and ITV London news got used to seeing pictures of the money-pit as the latest revelations came in.

The main cronies are gone now, and have been busy helping police with their enquiries. But before the scandal blew up, they granted illegal sub-leases to what you might call sub-cronies – among them Code 7, Starlight Music Academy and others – who continue to this day to enjoy rent-free space, free utilities, free business rates and free security at Offley Works, courtesy of the London taxpayer.

Starlight and the others mounted a shrill PR campaign on Jasper’s and the cronies’ behalf during the scandal. After the election, they kept turning up at the Mayor’s public events. They enlisted some of London’s more trusting bloggers and politicians to the view that they were an irreplaceable cornerstone of Brixton youth culture whose eviction would devastate the community arts scene. The LDA had already regularised their lease before Ken lost; last year, under Boris Johnson, it gave them a one-year extension. Just like the original cronies, their explicit agenda is to parlay a temporary and irregular occupation into permanent use and control of this hugely valuable building. 

Sadly, however, when I looked into Starlight, I found it wasn’t registered at Companies House or the Charity Commission and had never, in its claimed 12-year existence, published any accounts. It failed to answer repeated phone calls and emails. Other organisations doing arts outreach work in the area (and struggling for pennies from City Hall, let alone free buildings) had never even heard of it. It kept no records of who had studied there and what they had studied. Its website showed no courses – but it did list a certain Lee Jasper as a “friend of Starlight” and thanked him for getting them its accommodation. Jasper, I discovered, lobbied for them to keep the building at a meeting last March. So far, so familiar.

Starlight has now registered as a company (still no accounts, though) and claims to run three courses a week with a Mobo-award winning artist. But its website is still completely blank on the events front. Lee Jasper has been removed, but so too have all contact details, mobile and email. I can’t help feeling that almost anybody would be a better recipient of a free building than this lot.

Now, at last, it looks like the party may be over. At November’s public question time with the Mayor (scroll down to the bottom of page 15 of the PDF) the Starlight crowd overdid the heckling and got thrown out. This week, it was announced that the Offley Works tenants’ lease would expire in May, that they were being given advice on “relocation” and that the LDA would this month sign a agreement for the building to be redeveloped for small business, residential and community use – things, in other words, that London actually needs.

I predict the Starlight people will keep clinging on as long as they can, hoping to wear the LDA down. But they really do seem to have been rumbled this time: even their former protector, the Labour assembly member Val Shawcross, says that theirs is “not good lobbying.” As Boris’s youth ambassador, James Cleverly, says: “The simple fact is there are fantastic projects all over London that do not shout as loud as others and they should not be denied funding.”

At the time of writing, at least, it’s looking like Offley Works will no longer outlast the bendy bus and the Venezuelan oil deal as a monument to Ken’s rule. When they do redevelop it, though, I hope they put a plaque up.