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26 Nov, 2018 13:16

37 years of lies and smears – Ken Livingstone

37 years of lies and smears – Ken Livingstone

Just two weeks ago on the BBC's Question Time, a Tory MP said that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was anti-Semitic. Many in the audience hissed. They knew this was just another smear. But it was not the first.

From the moment Jeremy became the first genuinely socialist leader for over 30 years, the Tory media has been filled with ridiculous allegations.

Back in the summer, front-page headlines in the Tory newspapers claimed that in the late 1980s several Labour MPs including Corbyn, his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and myself, had been taking thousands of pounds from Czechoslovak communist spies in exchange for secret information from Margaret Thatcher's government.

Not surprisingly, no journalist phoned me to ask about this, as it was unlikely that lefties sitting on the opposition backbenches would have access to Mrs Thatcher's confidential documents and it would only take a few minutes to find out that John McDonnell hadn't been an MP until 10 years later.

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The corporations and billionaires who dominate the global economy are terrified that a genuinely left-wing government would stop all their tax dodging and money laundering so any genuine lefty is subject to a dishonest smear campaign. I experienced this 37 years ago when I was elected leader of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1981.
The day before my election, the front page of the Evening Standard instructed Londoners not to vote Labour. The Tory campaign had warned of "the ugly face of Marxism" and, in its 16-page manifesto, there were 17 references to Marxism. The Tory Daily Telegraph article "Will London be Marxified?" asked "Could the dictatorship of the proletariat be imposed without a prior communist revolution… The left is now poised to take over the leadership… The Livingstone method is to create a self-perpetuating dependency… crippling rates, bad services, compulsory purchase, redevelopment and council flats… drive out productive citizens and businesses and replace them by more dependents whose low incomes and a high degree of social problems increase the council's entitlement to exchequer aid. If he were to gain control how far off would our capital's point of no return be from a Livingstone death?"

The Tory Daily Express screamed: "Why we must stop these red wreckers."  

Given that our policies were to cut fares on the bus and tube, build council housing, and help create new high-skill manufacturing jobs, this did seem a little over the top. But the attacks worsened when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on the evening I became leader, told the Scottish Conservatives that my plan was to impose on Britain a communist tyranny like that of Eastern Europe.

Until Thatcher's speech, no previous leader of the GLC had ever been a national political figure, but after her speech every paper appointed permanent reporters at County Hall to report on what we were doing. None of my predecessors had ever had a press officer because the GLC leader never featured in the national press and only had an occasional mention in London's evening papers. Naively, I assumed this would all soon fade away, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

The crime writer Frederick Forsyth published his novel 'The Fourth Protocol,' which warned that the Soviet Union planned the takeover of Britain, writing that "A far left activist called Ken Livingstone" took control of the GLC in a "truly brilliant coup of which Lenin himself would have been proud."

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I thought this rubbish would pass, but as I left home to go to work on the first Monday as GLC leader, a photographer was hiding behind the dustbins hoping to catch a picture of who might be leaving with me. I naively believed that our policies on women's rights, anti-racism and challenging homophobia would be reported fairly, but in those days there was not a single reporter in the national press who was black, no reporter was openly gay, and no woman held a position more senior that the editorship of a women's page. So all of these policies were distorted and dishonestly reported.

It wasn't just our policies, it was also my personal life. The first shock came when my mum phoned to ask why I had had a vasectomy, as reported in The People. Another reported my ambition was to be elected Pope, and another claimed I was importing pills from San Francisco that changed the taste of human semen to strawberry flavor. Never once did any journalist phone to ask me whether any of these stories were true. Thatcher's government was behind a lot of it, with Tory central office briefing the press that I had been at a gay party where I had been sodomized by six men. Sadly, no newspaper ran this story because I could have made a small fortune with a libel action.
Every week, the rubbish in my dustbin disappeared overnight before the dustmen came to collect it. Sir David English, the editor of the Daily Mail, brought his Middle East war correspondent back to London and told him he had to file six stories a day about what I was doing at County Hall. He also personally drafted a question for a Tory councillor to ask at the next council meeting, which implied that I was anti-Semitic, and also got a Zionist group to smear me.

As the gay party story hadn't taken off, the Tories then said that MI5 had a file listing my sexual activities with school girls. A reporter from The Sun told me they had information I had been above an East End pub one Friday where I met with a group of pedophiles. Fortunately, I could point out that I had been addressing a public rally in the north of England that evening. The only time I did go to court with a libel action was when the satirical magazine Private Eye ran a story that I had a Swiss bank account into which Colonel Gaddafi had put $200,000. I used the £10,000 damages paid by Private Eye to fund a weekly left-wing paper called Labour Herald. On the day after Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer married, several papers ran the story that I had released large black balloons over London in protest at their wedding – another story for which no-one could find a shred of evidence.

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Things got dramatically worse when I raised the issue of the IRA's bombing campaign that was leading to several deaths a year in London. At that time, Mrs Thatcher's government was refusing to negotiate a peace deal with the IRA and I made a speech saying that we should begin negotiations to bring this conflict to an end. The Sun newspaper ran a piece saying: "This damn fool says the bombers aren't criminals… This morning The Sun presents the most odious man in Britain. Take a bow, Mr Livingstone, socialist leader of the Greater London Council… he has quickly become a joke. Now no-one can laugh at him any longer. The joke has turned soar, sick and obscene for Mr Livingstone steps forward as the defender and the apologist of the criminal murderous activities of the IRA."

Other papers reported this story, but none bothered to check to see if it was true. The Times headline screamed: "Mr Ken Livingstone took the side of the IRA," while the Daily Express headlined: "IRA bomb gang not criminals says Livingstone."

My poll rating had sunk to 18 percent but the media's lies triggered physical attacks on me. As I was going into a public meeting, two members of the fascist National Front sprayed me across the face with an aerosol can. I was partially blinded and in great pain but was able to get away and clean myself up before the meeting started. No newspaper condemned this violence. A few days later, I went into a pub with friends where we were physically attacked by a bunch of skinheads chanting "Commie bastards." They kicked one of my friend's in the head and threw one of the women over the bar. They clearly believed what they read in the papers. Papers reported the incident but none condemned it, and the Daily Express supported the landlord's view that it was only to be expected.

If I was going to report all the lies and smears from these last 37 years, it would fill up another 10 columns, and I don't want you all falling asleep.

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Things only started to improve when early in the following year, I appeared live on political programs like Question Time and Any Questions, which triggered many viewers and listeners to say they were so surprised that they agreed with what I had been saying. Two years later, Thatcher's government abolished the GLC elections. The BBC and ITV commissioned opinion polls which showed that had the elections taken place, Labour would have won 84 seats and the Tories just four.

Socialists must stick to their beliefs and if they do they will eventually turn public opinion around, as Jeremy Corbyn did in last year's general election, when we saw the greatest increase in the Labour vote since 1945 and he came within just seven seats of being able to replace the Tory government.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.