Let’s all go through this one together, shall we?
The row over Ken Livingstone’s remarks that shadow defence minister Kevan Jones “might need psychiatric help” was reignited on Saturday when the former London mayor was labelled a bigot by Labour MP John Mann.
Is Kevan Jones also a bigot, then? Or is he not the same Kevan Jones who, in 2010, said: “Any idiot in opposition who argues that Government legislation can somehow be got through without programme motions should be taken out to the nearest lunatic asylum”? That information has been public knowledge for a few days now; perhaps Mr Mann should have considered it before opening his mouth. Both Jones’s 2010 remark and Livingstone’s were wrong; Livingstone has apologised.
In a live phone-in on LBC radio, Mann called Livingstone “an appalling bigot” and “all mouth” and criticised him for refusing to campaign for Labour in the Oldham byelection in 12 days’ time.
Mr Livingstone said he was looking after his children because his wife is at work from 7am until 7pm. It’s possible to criticise him by suggesting he should have hired care staff, but with many other campaigners on the Oldham doorstep, and considering the smear campaign against him by Mr Mann and others, it is worth asking what benefit Mr Mann expects Labour to gain from Mr Livingstone’s presence.
The former mayor responded: “You’re on the radio and TV all the time, criticising what this party leadership is doing. All the time.”
Mann then demanded that Livingstone give him an example and later accused him of “twisting things and failing to apologise for … your bigoted remarks about Kevan Jones. You’re the one who’s creating dissent.”
Mr Mann has a short memory. Only four days ago (November 18), he was on the BBC saying he did not have confidence in Jeremy Corbyn over foreign policy.
This should come as no surprise, as Mr Mann claimed, as long ago as July, that it was inappropriate for Jeremy Corbyn to stand in the Labour leadership election. The Labour Party in general disagreed overwhelmingly.
The former mayor then appeared to again backtrack on his apology to Jones, saying the MP should have spoken to him before criticising his appointment as co-chair of Labour’s review of Trident.
It is absolutely correct that Kevan Jones should have discussed his concern about Mr Livingstone’s appointment with the appropriate members of the Labour Party, including Livingstone himself, rather than go running to the Tory media about it. He didn’t. What does that tell you about Mr Jones?
That’s not to say Mr Livingstone was backtracking on his apology, though:
On Wednesday Livingstone tweeted that he “unreservedly apologised” to Jones for telling the Mirror: “I think he might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed … He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.” Jones, MP for North Durham, experienced depression in 1996.
… and then suggested certain other MPs should be taken to the nearest lunatic asylum in 2010.
But appearing on Channel 4 News later on Wednesday, he then watered down his apology by saying: “If I’ve upset anyone, I’m really sorry. But this row isn’t something I started. It’s because I was attacked as not fit for this job.”
This is self-evidently correct.
Livingstone told Mann on Saturday: “I didn’t attack Kevan Jones. Kevan Jones attacked me and I responded. Why don’t you say something critical about an MP who comes out and attacks someone he’s never spoken to, smears them and says [they’re] not fit to do the job?”
Again, a good, accurate point.
Mann responded: “You are a bully attacking Kevan Jones. Your language is appalling. You’re a bigot. You’ve failed to apologise … Even today, you’re failing to do so.
That is a speech straight out of the anti-Corbyn strategy book. Mr Mann is wrong to say Mr Livingstone attacked Mr Jones; Livingstone defended himself (albeit with inappropriate language). But this is how MPs like Mr Mann work – they attack Corbyn or one of his supporters and then, when that person responds, they pretend that they are the victims. Then they attack further, concentrating not on any issues that have been raised, but on creating an emotional impact in onlookers – hence the claim that Livingstone is a “bully”, “appalling” and a “bigot”.
The show’s co-host, former Conservative minister David Mellor, then intervened, saying: “Can listeners kindly be reminded that these are two members of the Labour party who’ve been discussing their love for one another.”
Perhaps this is the very worst aspect of the whole controversy: While one Labour MP attacks another, the Conservatives can sit on the sidelines and laugh at both of them, in the knowledge that the Labour ‘moderates’ (right-wingers, Blairites, whatever-you-want-to-call-them) are ruining the party’s chances of election in the future.