Fern Tomlinson reports on Ken Livingstone’s latest gaffe.
There is little doubt that the race for London Mayor this year will dominate the headlines in coming months. Seen by many as a quasi-referendum on how the Conservative government is doing, the fight is certainly on.
Already courting controversy however is Labour candidate Ken Livingstone. No doubt the cause of much wringing of hands and shaking of heads in his campaign headquarters, he has said in an interview with the New Statesman that the Conservative Party was “riddled” with homosexuality.
Except he failed to even phrase it as delicately as that. The full quote reads: ”[The public] should be allowed to know everything, except the nature of private relationships – unless there is hypocrisy, like some Tory MP denouncing homosexuality while they are indulging in it … As soon as Blair got in, if you came out as lesbian or gay you immediately got a job. It was wonderful … you just knew the Tory party was riddled with it like everywhere else is. ”
The twitter-sphere and blogosphere positively lit up with comment from right-wingers keen to denounce the Mayoral hopeful as out-of-touch and homophobic. There have already been calls for Ed Miliband to condemn the interview, or to withdraw his backing for Livingstone.
However, Livingstone has so far refused to apologise, claiming the remark was meant to be funny and was, in fact, a “backhanded compliment”. Seemingly making matters worse, when asked why he targeted Conservative MPs specifically, he flippantly replied that all the Labour ones had come out. Not exactly good PR material.
Many MPs, from both sides of the Commons, have called on Livingstone to apologise, or for Miliband to condemn the comment.
Openly gay Labour MP Chris Bryant said how the “faux outrage turns my stomach” while Conservative MP Angie Bray branded the comments offensive. Despite Livingstone’s staff being quick to defend his record on promoting equality and defending homosexuality, the comment seems to tell a different story. Just looking at the language Livingstone uses appears to belie a deeper scepticism or resentment of homosexuality in general. Using terms such as “indulging”, “riddled” and “hypocrisy”, the Mayoral hopeful offers an indirectly damming view of homosexuality.
Far from being an off-hand, humorous comment then, Livingstone’s remarks might reveal a different side to him. Even if the language was incidental, the message was not.
Firstly, by suggesting that homosexuality was an automatic route to a job in the Labour government is grossly unfair to those people who did receive jobs under New Labour and were gay. To suggest that their own merit or hard work was not a factor in the decision is insulting to say the least. Then there is the “hypocrisy” of denouncing homosexuality is you yourself are gay, openly or not. By predicating his remarks by stating that private relationships should remain private, it seems ridiculous for Livingstone to go on to say that these people are hypocritical by hiding their sexual orientation.
Surely, by his own logic, their private relationships should have no bearing on their political views or actions. If he had taken the time to think his comments through, saying that no-one should be denouncing homosexuality, the (limited) press coverage on the interview would undoubtedly have been positive, and rightly so.
The comments are just the latest in a campaign that has seen a number of contentious comments from the Labour candidate. In an interview in August 2011 Livingstone indirectly compared rival Boris Johnson to Hitler, while he also managed to equate the morality of the housing policy of Boris’ campaign manager to the actions of Mladic in Bosnia. His campaign team must be wondering what will come next. With Boris Johnson standing for re-election as the Conservative candidate, it looks set to be a very interesting campaign to say the least.