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Ken Livingstone on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, December 11, 2016 [Image: BBC].

Suspended Labour grandee Ken Livingstone appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Politics today (December 11, 2016), to defend the party’s recent by-election losses under crossfire from host Andrew Neil and Chris Leslie, representing the party’s right wing.

Of course, Twitter’s collective knee was jerking spasmodically throughout, and afterwards.

First up with the stupid was Ian Austin, another Labour MP, who earned notoriety when he tried to shout down Jeremy Corbyn while the Labour leader was criticising Tony Blair in response to the Chilcot Inquiry report:

Mr Austin’s political leanings mean he helpfully voted with the Conservatives on George Osborne’s silly fiscal rules (remember them?) – a Labour MP who voted for austerity. Meanwhile, his expenses claims have been astronomical.

And Mr Livingstone, of course, didn’t mention Hitler once.

Instead he pointed out, reasonably, that Richmond and Sleaford were not Tory-Labour marginals, and where by-elections have been held in such places, the results indicate a Labour victory.

Chris Leslie was quick to support the candidates, even though both have been criticised as right-wingers who do not support Jeremy Corbyn. Could that have been a reason for their unpopularity?

Moving on to Labour’s economic credibility, Mr Livingstone said the UK economy would “limp along” for the next few years, which is pretty much the opinion of any reputable economist.

Yes indeed, Narinder Singh – and underemployment is at a record high as well. People have jobs, but they don’t pay well enough, and the UK’s productivity is no better for the extra members of the workforce. So the economy is limping, and Brexit will only make that worse.

On that subject, Mr Livingstone said he doubted the UK would be able to get a good deal from the European Union. Andrew Neil countered by pointing out that Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour is committed to getting the best possible deal. The two positions are not mutually exclusive; it’s simply that the best possible deal isn’t likely to be good. But Mr Livingstone allowed himself to be distracted by the line of questioning and said he did not believe that was possible – a confusing statement that may be used against him.

Mr Livingstone supported Labour’s plan for huge investment in the economy, saying it could be funded: “If we cracked down on what some believe to be £150 billion of tax avoidance… We can say to Starbucks… we’ll tax every cup of coffee you sell.”

This produced a cracking response from Zorba Eisenhower:

Yeah – there’s just one problem with that, Zorba – VAT is paid by the customer, not the vendor.

More to the point was the comment

In fairness, Andrew Neil’s flippant response generated something of a backlash as well:

On Labour’s current standing in public opinion – as defined by the polls which, as everybody reading This Blog knows, are not a reliable indicator – Mr Livingstone said: “If in a year’s time it was still as bad as this, we’d all be worried. I don’t think it will be.”

This was welcomed by the Twitter critics. It was as if their previous negativity towards him had never existed:

Andrew Neil, in a last-gasp bid to breach Mr Livingstone’s self-confidence, pointed out that Labour has lost Scotland, and its support in the North of England seemed to be wavering.

But he replied: “It’s in the north, in the areas that have been neglected, that Jeremy’s strategy has the most relevance.” He went on to discuss the rebuilding of British industry that is part of Labour’s current economic strategy.

In contrast, Chris Leslie hardly got a look-in. He had a few moments but they were mostly flops, despite the interest they generated on Twitter. For example:

Is he? Is he part of Labour’s leadership, despite the fact that he was suspended from the party back in the summer, on a trumped-up charge of anti-Semitism? Please. Let’s be reasonable.

Mr Leslie’s other good line was this:

See? Tom Newton Dunn (who?) agrees. And it’s true that Mr Livingstone is a divisive figure. But he spoke coherently in this interview and Mr Neil was unable to dent his logic, even if he (and, clearly, many members of the public) didn’t agree with it.

Mr Leslie, on the other hand, was dismissed with a sideswipe when Mr Neil poured ridicule on his claim that his side of Labour would hold the leadership to account. Labour’s right wing had lost and was deeply unpopular with the party membership, Mr Neil reckoned, and I reckon he’s right.

Oh, and here’s just one more (intelligent) comment about the main focus of discussion on Twitter:

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