For most politicians, a morning you had intended to spend in the garden might have reached its low point when you instead went on the radio and said, “Anti-semitism and racism are not the same thing.” But all of a sudden it’s two hours later, you’re surrounded by television cameras on your way down some stairs and an MP from your own party is pointing his finger in your face and screaming, ‘Have you read Mein Kampf? Have you read Mein Kampf?’ leaving you with little alternative but to hide in a disabled toilet as TV reporters shout ‘Do you agree with Hitler?’ through the door.
When you look at it just in broad brush stroke terms, it’s possible Labour’s suspended Naz Shah has not gained a great deal from a public defence she did not ask for from the also now-suspended Ken Livingstone.
On the positive side, Labour has learned a valuable lesson. If, in the future, you find yourself having to defend people against allegations of anti-semitism - and it’s conceivable you might - don’t compare their views to Hitler’s.
Was Ms Shah’s suggestion that the nation of Israel and its 8 million inhabitants be ‘transported’ to the United States mainland anti-semitic, BBC Radio London had wanted to know. “No,” Ken said. “It’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-semitic.” And to prove it wasn’t anti-semitic, it turns out Hitler agrees with him.
“Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel,” he said. “He was supporting Zionism – this was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
‘Job done,’ Ken must have thought. Shah defended. Honour restored. Back to the azaleas. But it turned out even more people wanted to know about this 'Hitler before he went mad’ period. The BBC News Channel, the Daily Politics, Sky News and the World at One on Radio 4 to be exact, and all were duly obliged. Which was why it came to pass that, a week before the Mayoral elections, the only man to have done that job for Labour had a twenty minute on air discussion with Andrew Neil about Hitler's views on Zionism.
“It’s a historical fact,” he told him. “I was asked a question. I answered it.” It was a historical fact that was repeated on air at least a hundred times, for reasons that no one has yet been able to explain. Of course, it would be unfair not to extend to Ken Livingstone the same generosity he is preternaturally inclined to extend to the leader of the Third Reich, and it may simply be that he had by this point come to the end of his own pre-mad phase.
Labour’s John Mann had already accosted him on the stairs, the footage broadcast. And not half an hour later, he would be hiding in the toilets. At this point, the timings become unclear, but he may indeed have still been hiding in them as news of his suspension from the Labour Party became public.
At some point very soon, Jeremy Corbyn will inevitably come out and say the Labour Party ‘doesn’t have a problem with anti-semitism.’ If he wants anyone to believe him, he might wish to have the keys to a disabled toilet in his hand, and then throw them away.
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