LONDON — After waiting almost a year to convene disciplinary hearings against Mayor Ken Livingstone, accused of comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi “concentration camp guard,” England’s local-government ethics watchdog met for just two days and adjourned this week, leaving the case unresolved.
The Standard Board for England and Wales decided to reconvene in mid-January after dismissing one charge against Livingstone and failing to decide the second.
The board dismissed one charge, failing to “treat others with respect,” on the first day of hearings, December 12, after finding that Livingstone had been acting in a private capacity and not as mayor. A second charge, “bringing his office into disrepute,” could result in a five-year disqualification from public office.
The disciplinary process began in February when the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained to the Standard Board about the mayor’s remarks to the reporter, Oliver Finegold of the daily Evening Standard. Livingstone has refused to apologize, insisting that he makes a habit of being “rude” to reporters.
The mayor has spoken repeatedly of his long-running feud with the Evening Standard, part of a conservative newspaper group that was pro-Nazi during the 1930s. Livingstone is identified with the left wing of the Labour Party.
The controversial exchange, recorded on tape, took place February 9 as the mayor was leaving a party celebrating the 20th anniversary of another politician’s coming-out as a gay man. Finegold approached him at the exit, identified himself and his newspaper and asked about the party.
Livingstone, instead of discussing the party, asked Finegold: “Have you thought of having treatment?” He continued: “What did you do? Were you a German war criminal?”
Finegold replied: “No, I’m Jewish. I wasn’t a German war criminal. I’m quite offended by that.”
The mayor then said: “Ah, right, 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?”
This week’s hearing found five minutes of the exchange missing from Finegold’s tape.
In the days after the event, Livingstone refused to apologize, despite pressure from Prime Minister Tony Blair, various Jewish organizations and his own Greater London Assembly. In one interview, he said that if Finegold “isn’t happy, he shouldn’t be working for a paper like that. You can’t expect to work for the Daily Mail group and have the rest of society treat with you respect as a useful member of society, because you are not.”
The Daily Mail, the Evening Standard’s sister newspaper, was known during the early 1930s as a supporter of Sir Oswald Mosley’s pro-Nazi British Union of Fascists. The Mail withdrew its support in the mid-1930s, reputedly due to a pressure from one of its largest advertisers, a Jewish-owned retail chain.
In a news conference last winter, Livingstone charged that the Daily Mail and its owners “are continuing to nourish the racists even these days.” He said that the Mail’s World War II-era owner, Viscount Rothermere, great-grandfather of the current owner, “would have been at the front of the queue of collaborators” if Britain had “lost the war and had the Nazis controlled Britain.”
Born in South London in 1945, Livingstone entered Labour politics at age 24, running for local council posts while working as a cancer lab technician. Elected to the Greater London Council in 1978, he soared to national prominence in 1981, when a group of left-wing insurgents deposed the London council chairman, Andrew McIntosh, and installed him, defying Labour’s national leadership.
Livingstone’s left-wing positions — on gay rights, talks with the Irish Republican Army and more — made him a figure of constant controversy. In 1986, partly as a result of Livingstone’s provocations, prime minister Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council and even leveled its building.
Winning a parliament seat in 1987, he continued annoying Labour regulars. When Labour won power in 1997, Blair set up a new Greater London Assembly. Livingstone won the mayoral primary but the party installed a rival on the ballot.
Undaunted, Livingstone ran independently. He was promptly expelled from Labour, but went on to win the election in May 2000. Three years later, Blair asked him to come back home. That June he was re-elected as the Labour candidate.
His homecoming hasn’t tempered his views. In 2004 he called President Bush “the greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably ever seen.” He has spoken of Israeli leader Ariel Sharon as a “war criminal” who should be jailed.
In one of his most controversial moves, he hosted Egyptian fundamentalist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, known for his defense of suicide bombers, at City Hall in 2004.