Here’s a thought from The Guardian about Ken Livingstone, the democratically elected mayor of London, who has been suspended from office for making an anti-Semitic remark to a reporter: Livingstone, the paper notes, is “a politician with the biggest personal mandate in Europe.”
Not that it would be acceptable to remove even a lowly neighborhood-watch chairman for exercising his right to free speech. But for the shadowy, unelected, three-member Adjudication Panel to suspend someone re-elected by a landslide in 2004 only serves to underscore what a reprehensible assault on free speech this is. At least when the Republicans tried to remove Bill Clinton over his sexual escapades, the effort was led by elected members of Congress.
(By the way, I’m assuming that The Guardian has its facts straight. I can understand how Livingstone might have the largest mandate in Britain. Even Prime Minister Tony Blair represents just one parliamentary district. But I’m thinking about France, where the president — Jacques Chirac — is chosen in a national election. Was Livingstone’s margin in one city really larger than Chirac’s in all of France?)
Coming at the end of a week when British pseudo-historian David Irving was sentenced to 10 years in an Austrian prison for denying that the Holocaust took place, this is a pretty ominous moment for freedom of speech in Europe.
Livingstone, who is expected to challenge his month-long suspension, is quoted as saying:
This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law. Three members of a body that no one has ever elected should not be allowed to overturn the votes of millions of Londoners.
Livingstone got into trouble for an exchange with Oliver Finegold, a reporter for The Evening Standard. The Guardian recounts that exchange thusly:
The incident occurred last February as Mr Livingstone left a party marking the 20 years since former culture secretary Chris Smith became Britain’s first openly gay MP. In a tape-recorded exchange, he asked Mr Finegold whether he had ever been a “German war criminal”.
On being told that the reporter objected to the remark and was Jewish, the mayor said: “Ah, well you might be but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?”
Pretty nasty stuff, of course, and it was only right that Livingstone should have landed in trouble with voters, with the media — that is, with anyone other than unelected hall monitors. Livingstone has also been whacked with 80,000 pounds’ worth of costs — or approximately $140,000.
Guardian columnist Mark Lawson blames everyone — the “three blokes that nobody has heard of” and Livingstone himself, for refusing to apologize and thus defuse the situation. The entire exchange between Livingstone and Finegold is online here. Livingstone does come across as quite a jerk. If London doesn’t have a provision for a recall election, it ought to get one.
As for The Evening Standard, its editors seem to be exceedingly pleased with themselves, posting the audio of the exchange on the paper’s Web site, This Is London, along with a tease to “[r]ead the FULL story in tonight’s Evening Standard.” The splash headline on the paper itself: “MAYOR KEN SUSPENDED.” And if I’m reading the blurry subhead correctly, it says, “‘He has damaged his own reputation … and that of the Mayor’s office,'” apparently a quote from the “three blokes.”
Yes, Livingstone damaged his reputation. And the “three blokes” damaged the reputation of Britain as a free country where people can speak their minds, no matter how polluted their minds might be.