Published: March 26, 2012
By RICHARD OSLEY
MAYORAL election candidate Ken Livingstone claimed this afternoon (Monday) there was nothing anti-semitic in his comments about the likelihood of rich Londoners snubbing Labour at the polls.
Speaking to the New Journal during a campaign event in Russell Square, he said he was surprised by the nature of a hard-hitting article by Guardian columnist Jonathan Freeland published over the weekend in which the writer said he could no longer bring himself to vote for Mr Livingstone because he came across as uncaring towards the Jewish community.
In his column, Mr Freedland said he had been at the private meeting on March 1 during which, it has been claimed, Mr Livingstone suggested rich Jewish residents would not vote for him.
"As it happens I was at that meeting and I can confirm that the former mayor did make precisely that argument, linking Jewish voting habits to economic status, even if he did not baldly utter the words 'Jews are rich', a phrase that would have been additionally offensive," Mr Freedland wrote. The Jewish Chronicle reported last week how a letter of complaint had been sent to Labour leader Ed Miliband following the meeting.
Mr Livingstone denies making the assertion and his team said sensational headlines had not captured his true sentiments, but Mr Livingstone said today he stuck by his view that voting habits were often linked to wealth.
"To be brutally honest, I was surprised at the line he (Jonathan Freedland) took because every psephological study I've seen in the 40 years I've been following politics shows the main factor that determines how people how vote is their income level," he said. "And it's not anti-semitic to say that."
Privately, Labour officials often, when asked about any negative comment pieces or news coverage in the Guardian towards the party, make reference to the paper's decision to encourage readers to vote for the Liberal Democrats ahead of the 2010 general election. But the issue of Labour making sure its traditional, core support come out to vote on May 3 in a close contest with Boris Johnson has been thrown into sharp focus by niggly stories in recent days about how members are supposedly unenthused by Mr Livingstone's campaign. His running mate for deputy, Mayor Val Shawcross, said today that she "did not recognise" the picture conjured up by polls claiming 31 per cent of Labour supporters would not be voting for Mr Livingstone this time.
Mr Freedland wrote in his article that he did not want to see Mr Johnson re-elected but added: "People will wrestle with their own dilemmas. Some will conclude that only Livingstone's policy positions on transport or housing matter, I'm afraid I've reached a different conclusion."
LISTEN TO KEN LIVINGSTONE TALKING ABOUT JONATHAN FREEDLAND'S ARTICLE TODAY...
SEE THURSDAY'S NEW JOURNAL TO SEE WHAT KEN LIVINGSTONE PROMISED DURING A 'SOAP BOX' SPEECH IN CAMDEN.