When the news of Ken Livingstone’s one-year suspension from the Labour Party was announced earlier this week, there was a predictable outcry from those who would have preferred a show-trial with a foregone conclusion to an actual hearing that listened to evidence and made a judgment based on it.
On the part of many, it was an absolutely cynical move. Unite challenger Gerard Coyne disgracefully betrayed the two Unite members on the disciplinary panel simply for doing their job, in order to try to smear his opponent Len McCluskey by association.
Many Labour MPs were part of the uproar – including one Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party.
Mr Watson almost fell over himself in his haste to get in front of news cameras to attack the verdict and ‘sentence’ and speak of his ‘shame’ over his party’s decision, telling the any who’d listen that:
it shames us all.
He went on:.
It was clear that Watson assumed Corbyn would side with Livingstone and was hoping this would undermine the party leader – but he had to change his tune, embarrassingly, when Corbyn called for a further investigation into Livingstone’s remarks made during and after the hearing:
Jeremy and I are in complete agreement on this. Ken Livingstone's recent comments have brought our party into disrepute. His statement: pic.twitter.com/IpYLZYuXys
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) April 5, 2017
Bad enough for Watson that he was outflanked. But what he won’t enjoy having highlighted for him is his complete hypocrisy on the antisemitism issue.
Afzal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Gorton by-election triggered by the death of Gerald Kaufman. Watson has been in Gorton to campaign for Khan – a relatively ‘moderate’ candidate and this week Khan tweeted his appreciation of his ‘old friend’:
Thanks to my old friend @tom_watson for coming to #ManchesterGorton for the 2nd time during the campaign #gortonbyelection #YesWeKhan pic.twitter.com/tCr9kfLXT0
— Afzal Khan MP (@Afzal4Gorton) April 6, 2017
And here’s a hasty smartphone recording, just in case the tweet is taken down:
In case you don’t have sound, Watson says,
I’m with our candidate Afzal Khan, I admire him, I respect him, he’s a fantastic campaigner.
Afzal Khan is currently a Labour MEP (Member of the European Parliament). He’s also a man with a complicated history.
In 2002, Khan spoke at a protest against the Iraq war and told his audience:
We talk about Saddam being an evil dictator, we all agree about that. But what about the other dozens of dictators who America calls their friends? And what about that man of peace [the then-Israeli leader] Ariel Sharon? Who makes mockery of the word peace. Who’s been committing genocide against the Palestinian people.
Mr Khan later apologised for those remarks but in 2014 he sent a tweet that linked to an article comparing Israel to the Nazis, with the preface:
The Israeli Government are [sic] acting like Nazi’s [sic] in Gaza
According to campaign groups, comparing Israel’s actions to the nazis is inherently antisemitic. Whatever your view on that, it would be fair to say that it’s a comment at least as problematic as Ken Livingstone’s admittedly insensitive and ill-advised remarks that have been interpreted as him saying the nazis supported zionism – an interpretation that many Jewish Labour supporters insist was unfair.
It should be noted that this article is not calling either Khan or Livingstone antisemitic. But the hypocrisy of Tom Watson on the issue is clear-cut.
If he thinks it will damage Corbyn and the left – who have already been tarred with antisemitism smears for which even a parliamentary committee full of anti-Corbyn members had to conclude there was no evidence at all – Watson is full of righteous indignation.
But to support a ‘moderate’ Labour candidate, he’s happy to talk of his admiration and respect for an ‘old friend’.
What that says about the man and his motivations is not hard to work out.
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