You thought 'War and Peace' was a saga ...

The latest row between the Mayor and the 'Evening Standard' could be great journalism or a politically motivated smear. Either way, stand by for pistols at dawn. Joia Shillingford reports

What on earth is the poor Londoner to make of the dust-up between The Evening Standard and the capital's Mayor, Ken Livingstone? Last week the Standard was running what looked like a decent story about how one of Livingstone's lieutenants Lee Jasper, in charge of London's equalities and policing has been using his high office to look rather too kindly on one of his friends. At the very least, the mayor's office has a case to answer, but this isn't just about "a story". This is Chapter 37 of War and Peace.

Veronica and Ken don't get on. Veronica (Wadley), editor of the Standard for nearly six years, is naturally Tory in outlook, schooled in the ways of The Daily Mail, and learned her trade at a time when the "Loony Left" couldn't help feeding the tabloids' prejudices. Ken Livingstone, once the embodiment of that Loony Left, has risen to far greater success and political prominence than his opponents think is right. His popularity is resented. Not bad in mud-throwing opposition, he could never "do" government, surely?

But that is not all. Both are restless souls who thrive on antagonism. So Veronica announced, on becoming editor of the Standard, that she would oppose Ken's congestion charge with all her might. Ken can't help picking old sores, so he accused a Standard reporter of being a concentration camp guard (a reference not particularly to his Jewishness but to Associated Newspapers "Hurrah for the blackshirts" headline in the 1930s).

There was another episode when a Standard employee, on leaving a party, fell 15ft over a wall, hurting himself quite badly. It was said that Livingstone had been in some way responsible. The allegations petered out, but the animosity lived on.

Occasionally, one or the other tries to bury the hatchet. Early in her reign, Ken sent Veronica a letter inviting her to lunch, but never keen on the front-of-house stuff she never got back to him. And just two months ago, Veronica and Ken seemed to kiss and make up, with Livingstone attending the launch party for the Standard's supplement, The 1000: London's Most Influential People, and meeting Wadley for the first time. "Actually Veronica was rather taken by the fact that Ken turned up," says someone close to her. "It was quite a big moment for her." Unable to resist the contrarian in himself, when asked by his retinue how the encounter had gone, Ken said: "She touched my arse." Those who know Wadley say this is unlikely.

The current fog obscuring last week's story is that Veronica has gone overboard for Boris (Johnson), Dave's friend, who wants to be Mayor, and with whom she used to work. Ken, of course, is long past the stage of being jealous, but he knows well enough that Boris, with the Standard's backing, is a formidable opponent. You don't have to be a calculating politico to see that he might be being ganged up on.

So when a story appears, over several days, claiming that Lee Jasper, a key aide of Ken, could have misappropriated funds granted by the London Development Agency to a former colleague, no wonder the hackles rise. Is this an admirable piece of journalistic endeavour or a politically motivated smear?

That the author of the story is Andrew Gilligan he whose Today programme report on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction at 6.07 one morning nearly brought down the government, and who is also a friend of Boris Johnson would fuel anybody's paranoia. But Gilligan, scarred by the WMD affair, is nobody's stooge. "He is totally motivated by getting stories, that's what really gets him going," says one journalist who knows him well. "He is a very difficult man to manage, and the idea of Veronica or anyone bullying him into writing something that wasn't right is absurd. Besides, if anything, politically, he is liberal, and I guess would be more sympathetic to Ken than to the right."

In a press conference last week, Henry Bonsu, director of Colourful Radio, spoke for many. He said to Ken Livingstone: "A lot of people think this is a political smear campaign to try to attack you in the run-up to the election. However, some black-led groups feel that those organisations which are not within the 'Caribbean business network' don't have as much chance of getting a grant or some help from the LDA or any other authority within the GLA as those who are caught up within that nexus."

There is evidence, though, that the LDA does fund groups with no links to Lee Jasper's cronies and it audits them too.

Livingstone's office has been forceful in defending Jasper, whose political history goes back to the 70s and 80s, while not always addressing the specifics of Gilligan's allegations. The row rumbled on a blog until late on Friday, with both sides studiously talking past one another.

While Livingstone feels he is being picked on by London's only paid-for paper, Wadley too is under pressure. Circulation has long been on a downward path, accelerated by the arrival of the freesheets, although the ABCs showed a recent steadying of the ship. In November, the ABC circulation figures put the Standard at 291,991, compared with free paper circulation of 400,513 for its London Lite, and 495,950 for Murdoch's TheLondonPaper.

By taking on Livingstone, the Standard invites comparison with the old paper of the 1980s which did so much to support Mrs Thatcher and Lady Porter. It risks alienating readers who voted for Ken and a lot of London's ethnic minorities, about 30 per cent of the capital's population. Livingstone is no pantomime villain and the paper has never been at its most knowing when dealing with race.

The Standard says the LDA is taking legal action against Brixton Base, which received a lot of LDA funds, some of which remain unaccounted for. Whatever the rights and wrongs, Livingstone will give little ground willingly. He says the Standard's story is "a tissue of lies" and "a racist smear campaign".

How long before it's pistols at dawn for Veronica and Ken?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Stanley Tucci as DCI Eugene Morton, Sophie Grabol as Hildur Odegard and Christopher Eccleston as Professor Charlie Stoddart in 'Fortitude'
tvGrace Dent: Still, it's compelling and cinematically sublime
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Guru Careers: Sales Director / Business Development Manager

£35 - 45K + COMMISSION (NEG): Guru Careers: A Sales Director / Business Develo...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee