Livingstone steps up his battle with 'reprehensible' media group

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Indy Politics

London's Mayor, Ken Livingstone, last night stoked the fire in his battle with Associated Newspapers with an attack on the editors of the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard.

London's Mayor, Ken Livingstone, last night stoked the fire in his battle with Associated Newspapers with an attack on the editors of the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard.

In an increasingly acrimonious row, triggered after the Mayor's now infamous exchange with a Jewish Evening Standard reporter, the Mayor claimed the Daily Mail titles "continue to provide food for racism today".

Labelling the Daily Mail group as among the "most reprehensibly managed, edited and owned newspapers in the world", the Mayor suggested its wartime owner, the first Viscount Rothermere, the great-grandfather of the papers' present owner, would have been "at the front of the queue of collaborators" had Britain been defeated by Hitler.

At a weekly news conference yesterday, Mr Livingstone ducked criticism that he had been prepared to accept money from the group as a restaurant critic for the Evening Standard, by claiming it had changed under the current editorship of Veronica Wadley, a former deputy editor of the Daily Mail, to become a "clone" of its sister title.

He took a swipe at the Daily Mail's editor, Paul Dacre, saying: "He wanted an editor he could control and bring [the Evening Standard] into line to reflect the general views of the Mail group."

Despite widespread calls for him to apologise, from Holocaust survivors to his own party, the politician again failed to say sorry for his comments last week when he compared Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

Batting aside fears that the row was damaging London's multicultural credentials in a crucial week for its bid to hold the 2012 Olympic Games, Mr Livingstone conceded that his remarks to Mr Finegold could be seen as offensive and even liable to legal complaint.

But he insisted that because his remarks - following a party in honour of the gay Labour MP Chris Smith - were not racist, there were no grounds for an apology.

At the media briefing, scheduled to deal with the minutiae of the transport system, Mr Livingstone said: "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.

"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. I am not going to apologise if I do not believe that I have done something wrong."

Instead, Mr Livingstone, who faces an inquiry by local government watchdogs after a complaint from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, stepped up his attack on the Evening Standard and its sister paper, the Daily Mail.

He reiterated his criticism of the Daily Mail's flirtation with fascism during the 1930s and subsequent coverage of minorities from Irish immigrants to asylum-seekers.

Associated Newspapers, the owner of the Daily Mail titles, last night made no comment.

But there were signs that the row was causing more widespread damage, in particular to London's Olympic bid. Lord Coe, the head of the bid, sought to play down the dispute by saying the International Olympic Committee team, which starts its inspection today, was interested only in analysing technical aspects of the campaign.

He said: "That is what they are here for and we will certainly not be deflected from anything else. This is absolutely what the focus is."

In the meantime, a battered but unbowed Mr Livingstone sought to make a virtue of his obstinacy by insisting the Olympic officials should admire his strength of character.

The row started after Mr Livingstone was approached for a comment by Mr Finegold outside City Hall following a party marking the 20th anniversary of former culture secretary Mr Smith coming out as Britain's first openly gay MP.

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

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