Ken Livingstone denies Jewish voting comments


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Indy Politics

Ken Livingstone denied today saying Jews do not vote Labour as he sought to limit the damage from a race row sparked by his alleged comments.

Prominent members of London's Jewish community have sent a letter to Labour leader Ed Miliband expressing their concerns about his party's candidate for London mayor.

The letter reportedly claimed that during a meeting with Labour-supporting Jews on March 1, Mr Livingstone said he did not expect the Jewish community to vote Labour "as votes for the left are inversely proportional to wealth levels, and suggested that as the Jewish community is rich we simply wouldn't vote for him".

Asked on the campaign trail in east Croydon, south London, today whether he made the comments, he replied: "Absolutely not."

But he insisted he stood by everything he did say during the meeting, dismissing the row as "electioneering".

He said: "It was a private meeting, it went on twice as long as we thought because we were having a very interesting conversation and we had a very nice meal together, and I don't recall anyone complaining about anything I'd said there, so I think this is a bit of electioneering from people who aren't terribly keen to see a Labour mayor."

He added that he had always fought prejudice and defended his record on looking out for the Jewish community.

"Every year I was mayor, anti-Semitic attacks declined," he said.

"The moment I stopped being mayor, they went up pretty dramatically under Boris Johnson...

"The simple reality is I have always fought prejudice. These charges are used again and again."

Mr Miliband, who joined Mr Livingstone as he launched his "Ken's fare deal" campaign to cut public transport fares, lent him his backing.

"I know Ken Livingstone well," he said. "He doesn't have a prejudiced bone in his body.

"He is attracting people from all faiths, all backgrounds, all religions to his campaign.

"He's somebody who's fought prejudice all his life and I know that is what he's going to continue to do."

Mr Livingstone addressed cheering supporters in front of a red bus with the slogan "Better off with Ken" emblazoned on it.

He pledged to:

:: Save Londoners on average £1,000 over four years by slashing transport fares;

:: Save households on average £480 on lower energy bills;

:: Help young people stay in education with an Education Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 a week;

:: Help reduce rents and improve homes with a non-profit London lettings agency;

:: Tackle heating bills through insulation and an energy co-op to reduce prices;

:: Introduce grants and interest-free loans to provide support for childcare.

He said: "The plans I have set are not only affordable but are aimed at helping Londoners in tough times and create jobs and growth."

But opponents attempted to drown him out by chanting "Not again, Ken" as he spoke to Labour campaigners.

Undeterred, Mr Livingstone went on to speak of his wish to see more power devolved to the London mayor from central government, declaring he would "like to take over our NHS immediately".

He said: "If you look at the city of New York, the mayor runs the benefit system, some of the prisons even, and the healthcare and schools.

"I've watched all my life, irrespective of which government, Labour or Tory, ministers trying to run London's hospitals from Whitehall.

"It's just too big, too complicated. I think I'm in favour of devolving everything...

"The more you devolve things down, the easier they are."

Asked what areas he would like to be responsible for as mayor, he said: "I'd like to take over our NHS immediately because I would stop this nonsense that is going to lead to the privatisation.

"I'd like to take over a major house-building programme because we've got 700,000 households on the waiting list.

"I'd like to run the benefit system, and the first thing I'd do is increase the minimum wage in London to the level of the London living wage, which would put money back in the pockets of the poorest workers."

He joked that he would use his "amazing charm and subtlety" to persuade the Government to hand over these powers.

The campaign for London mayor officially got under way on Tuesday, with Londoners due to go to the polls on May 3.