Ken Livingstone’s decision to resign from Labour is a victory for those who have been harrying the party over allegations of antisemitism.
It is also another sign of the failure by the party leadership to stand up to the pressure.
The Tories, much of the media, the Labour right and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which have been at the forefront of hounding Labour leaders over alleged antisemitism, have repeatedly demanded Livingstone’s removal.
Now they have their wish—and it will feed further demands.
The Labour right queued up to post their happiness. “Good riddance,” tweeted Labour MP Wes Streeting. “Glad to hear it. Should have happened two years ago,” added Luciana Berger MP. “Good. But he should have been expelled,” said Mike Gapes.
But it wasn’t just the right. Owen Jones tweeted, “Glad that Ken Livingstone has left the Labour Party. Now Labour has to keep desperately working on mending its relationship with Britain's Jews.”
Former MP and London mayor Livingstone said he resigned because “the ongoing issues around my suspension have become a distraction from the key political issue of our time”. That is “to replace a Tory government overseeing falling living standards and spiralling poverty, while starving our schools and the NHS of the vital resources they need.”
Two years ago Livingstone’s remarks that “Hitler was supporting Zionism” before the Holocaust played into the right’s hands. The right were desperate to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism—and they grabbed their chance.
He was suspended from Labour. Livingstone’s remarks were poorly-phrased, but he is not racist or antisemitic.
As he resigned he said, “I abhor antisemitism, I have fought it all my life and will continue to do so. I also recognise that the way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that.”
He has a strong anti-racist record. Livingstone used his position as mayor to support anti-racist causes at a time when they were far less widely officially accepted than they are now.
As an MP and campaigner he continued to back initiatives against racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism.
In April 2017 Labour’s disciplinary panel found Livingstone guilty of bringing the party into disrepute and suspended him again.
That was not nearly enough for many Labour figures. Deputy leader Tom Watson said the decision not to expel Livingstone was “incomprehensible”. London mayor Sadiq Khan said it was “deeply disappointing”.
Over 100 Labour MPs signed an open letter calling on the party to throw Livingstone out.
In March this year the suspension was extended. As false allegations of antisemitism multiplied recently, it was obvious that only firm backing from Corbyn and his allies could save Livingstone. There was no such support.
A new Labour party disciplinary process was due to begin this week, and it’s probable Livingstone was told he was for the chop.
Recently shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti, author of a report dealing with antisemitism and racism in the party, said she would quit the Labour frontbench if he was not expelled at his next hearing.
Last month anti-racist Marc Wadsworth was expelled without a word of complaint from the top of the party.
On Monday Corbyn said, “Ken Livingstone's resignation is sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics, but was the right thing to do.”
If Labour’s leaders crumble under this sort of pressure, how are they going to stand up to the much more intense pressures they will face if they reach government?