I will not apologise, says Mayor

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Indy Politics

Ken Livingstone vowed today he would not apologise for comparing a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard, saying his words were "offensive but not racist".

The Mayor of London told a City Hall press conference: "You can make the case my remarks were offensive and that they may be actionable and may have recourse in law but you can't make the case they were racist."

Despite calls from Holocaust survivors and his own Labour Party colleagues to say sorry, and fears that it could damage the Olympic bid, Mr Livingstone said he was not budging.

"I have been through several of these media firestorms. I have always had the view that if I had made a mistake I would apologise," he said.

"I am not going to apologise if I do not believe that I have not done something wrong. I am not going to appease media pressure by lying."

And not even if Prime Minister Tony Blair were to demand an apology, would he back down, he said.

"(When) I went back to the Labour Party he made it absolutely clear it was my job to do my job," Mr Livingstone said.

"He has no intention of making me Foreign Secretary and we have our respective roles. He is not there to manage me. He is not answerable to my mistakes or successes. We are judged separately and independently."

He is waiting to hear if local government watchdogs, the Standards Board for England, will launch an official investigation which could see him suspended or barred from office.

He does not believe the row will damage the Olympic bid, which today reaches a crucial stage as International Olympic Committee officials begin an inspection.

Mr Livingstone claimed he had been the subject of a 24-year hate campaign by Associated Newspapers, owner of the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail.

In fact Mr Livingstone appeared to suggest that his determination to stand up for what he believes in may impress IOC officials.

He said: "I think it is important that the IOC members realise that when we get the games and inevitably there will be some in the media that are going to go for them, and that they have a mayor who is not going to panic, change course or get in a great flap but will deliver the games on time and to budget."

Mr Livingstone made his controversial comments on being approached by Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold after a party at City Hall marking the 20-year anniversary of former culture secretary Chris Smith coming out as Britain's first openly gay MP.

Referring to the decision of the Daily Mail - the Evening Standard's sister paper - to support Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, he first asked Mr Finegold if he was a "German war criminal".

On learning that the reporter was Jewish, he said: "You're just like a concentration camp guard. You're just doing it because you're paid to, aren't you?"

"I am not seeking to make that comparison if anyone got that impression that was wrong. I don't suggest for one minute that has anything to do with the Holocaust which is a uniquely horrific period in history."

He denied he was comparing his troubles to that of Holocaust survivors.

He said: "It is the thin end of the wedge when reporters say to me 'I'm only doing this because this is my job'.

"That is the same abdication of moral responsibility, the thin edge of the wedge that in its extreme horrific version that ends up being compared to standing around like a concentration camp guard. You are responsible for your own choices in life. I have always been."

If being rude to journalists were to be made a criminal offence, Mr Livingstone said he would have to have "about 300 offences" from the past 20 years taken into account.

Bob Neill, leader of the London Assembly Conservatives, said: "Ken Livingstone must be the only person left in London, possibly Britain, who does not think he should apologise.

"How long can the Mayor go on refusing to say sorry?

"This row has done incalculable damage to his reputation, to his long-term position as Mayor - and to London's Olympic bid."