Multicultural capital turns on Livingstone over death-camp slur

Ken Livingstone is no stranger to making enemies but even by his gladiatorial standards the outspoken Mayor of London's latest battle with the press is a bloody one with the potential of causing him long term political damage.

He is under sustained attack from Jewish community leaders and a gay rights group over remarks he made during an encounter with a newspaper reporter. Mr Livingstone has refused to apologise to the Evening Standard or its journalist, Oliver Finegold, after he likened the reporter to a "concentration camp guard" upon being told by Mr Finegold that he was Jewish.

The Mayor's differences with the press can be traced back to the early 1980s when, as leader of the GLC, he was labelled "Red Ken" for promoting a socialist agenda and extending an invitation to the capital to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

His bust-up with the Standard is the latest in a series of spats which began soon after the appointment of the editor, Veronica Wadley, in 2002.

That year he urged Londoners to boycott the paper after a front-page story accused him of drunkenly pushing a man over a 15ft stairwell and manhandling his pregnant girlfriend at a party. The Mayor denied the allegations, accusing the Standard of waging a politically motivated campaign against him.

The London paper went on to repeatedly attack his congestion charge policy and last year led a chorus of condemnation after he invited the radical Muslim cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, to a conference.

Mr Livingstone thinks the Standard's coverage of London to be unreasonably negative and has set up his own title, The Londoner, extolling the benefits of living in the capital.

Ms Wadley hit out in The Spectator magazine last month, saying the Mayor was still riled because she refused to have lunch with him after becoming editor. The latest controversy also reopens old wounds with Jewish leaders. A remark four years ago that global capitalism kills more people than Hitler was condemned by Jews.

On a tape of his encounter with Mr Finegold, the Labour politician can be heard asking the reporter if he is a "German war criminal" before learning of his Jewish background. He then describes the staff of the paper as a "load of scumbags and reactionary bigots".

Mr Livingstone woke yesterday morning to find representatives of some of the causes he has championed waiting to deliver a critical verdict on what his office insisted had begun as "relatively light-hearted comments". The verbal fracas, which followed a gay event in honour of the Labour MP Chris Smith on Tuesday night, brought swift condemnation from Jews, gay rights campaigners and from within his own party.

Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: "I find his language appalling and this man's insensitivity appears to know no bounds at all. He should consider his position."

Writing in the pages of the Standard, Gerald Kaufman, one of the country's leading Jewish MPs, said: "To liken anyone ­ let alone a Jew ­ to a concentration camp guard is crass and insensitive."

Mr Livingstone, who described the Standard's decision to doorstep the event as harassment, also attracted criticism from the gay rights group, OutRage!

Brett Lock, a spokesman, said: "His sensationalist rhetoric cheapens the experience of Jews, gays, the disabled, Roma, black people, communists and others persecuted by the Nazis."

Opponents wasted no time in suggesting his comments would damage London's Olympic bid. Tony Arbour, the Tory vice-chairman of the Greater London Authority standards com- mittee, said: "He has brought London and his office into disrepute, and may have single-handedly ensured London will fail to win the 2012 Olympics."

The Mayor will try to crown his second term in office next week by convincing a 14-member Olympic delegation of his native city's merits.

Details of Mr Livingstone's diary from last week, seen by The Independent, show he attended five events to which the media were invited, apparently providing the grounds for his office to complain that the Standard was unfairly pursuing him.

Last night, Mr Livingstone was in no mood for a climbdown. He said that "nobody who works for the Daily Mail group of papers [which owns the Standard] deserves respect".