Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ken Livingstone

There is a very good editorial in this week's New Statesman which makes the important points about the story that has been filling the papers this week:
Ken Livingstone is a fool and a hypocrite. Leaving a party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chris Smith "coming out" as the first openly gay MP, he asks a London Evening Standard reporter (who happens to be Jewish) if he is "a German war criminal", suggests that he should seek treatment and describes the reporter's employers as "a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots". This is foolish because doorstepping a London party is hardly on a par with running an extermination camp, and to equate the two is to trivialise the latter; it is hypocritical because, a few years ago, Mr Livingstone himself acted as the Standard's restaurant critic. It would be good manners for Mr Livingstone to say sorry to Oliver Finegold, the reporter. But it is also absolutely no business of anyone else's whether he does so or not.
The demand for ritual recantation and punishment whenever someone expresses themselves "inappropriately" (itself a prissy, nannyish sort of word) has become an inhibition on free speech. A football manager loses his job when he "insults" disabled people; an editor's career is endangered when his magazine "insults" Liverpudlians; a commentator is thrown off the airwaves when he "insults" tsunami victims with a feeble pun. The worst sin of all (and rightly so) is anti-Semitism; but to place Mr Livingstone's remarks in that category is another example of trivialising the genuine article.

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