Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Livingstone begins suspension contest

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, today began his legal contest against the Adjuducation Panel for England's ruling that he had brought his office into disrepute.

The ruling followed an incident in which a reporter from the London Evening Standard, Oliver Finegold, 'door stepped' Mr Livingstone after a private party. Mr Livingstone compared the reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard and continued to do so even after Mr Finegold said he was Jewish and found the remarks offensive.

Now, much has been written about this incident but it seemed to me a few rather obvious points were always missed whenever it was discussed. I've mainly watched reporting of the details of the original incident on BBC London, the BBC's regional news programme. It's pretty clear from watching BBC London regularly that its main reporters and Tim Donovan in particular don't like Ken much. Regardless, in all the attempts by the media and other observers to intellectualise the reasons for the incident, the most straightforward commentary on the incident has yet to be written. So here it is.

Livingstone staggered out of the private party a touch 'tired and emotional'. Up steps Mr Finegold, presumably a bit cold and wet after standing outside for several hours- irked perhaps, and fires his first question, adding that he's from the Evening Standard. Ken, remember is 'tired and emotional', so blurts out some drivel about the reporter being like a concentration camp guard and only doing it because he's paid to. Finegold then replies that he's Jewish and finds Ken's remarks a little unsavoury. However, the reporter recovers his poise, puffs out his chest, put his best foot forward and cracks on with the 'door stepping'.

Sorry to be pendantic about all this, but when Ken first compared Mr Finegold to a Nazi, he didn't know Finegold was Jewish. It may be seem to simple to be worthy of note, but it's true. However, on hearing this Ken may have been best advised to change the subject, but being a bit pissed and annoyed at being jumped by the reporter, he blustered on. In fact, if I was in that situation I must admit I'd have been sceptical if Finegold had told me he was Jewish. It's the oldest trick in the book to hear someone say something which could be offensive and then say, "Oh, but actually I find that offensive because..." Of course, you'd usually be doing so to take the rise of someone and we know that wasn't the case in this instance. Nonetheless, a pissed-up Livingstone may have thought the reporter was simply trying to catch him out, especially as his faculties were not at their keenest. He may have. But admittedly it's still not an excuse for continuing with his outburst. At any rate the point was still missed: Ken compared the man to a Nazi warden before he knew the man was Jewish.

Neither man comes off particularly well in tape recording which Mr Finegold had of the meeting. Livingstone is drunk and belligerent, Finegold is determined to get a word from the mayor and goads him by thanking him for his remarks which he now had on "record". That it led to Livingstone's suspension is laughable. However, it may make some of us more cautious about what we call the traffic warden next time we return to our vehicle to find he or she is just issuing a ticket. Who knows where you could end up?


At 2:41 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Ken compared the man to a Nazi warden before he knew the man was Jewish'
Blatantly not the point! Whether he should have been suspended is a separate issue - what I'm interested in is that if we follow your logic it is apparently okay to be facetious about oppression (a) at certain points and (b) when you're certain that you're not speaking to a member of an oppressed group.
So by extension it's alright to say to someone that they look like a poof: not okay when you realise that you're talking to a gay man? Fine to say that all the bloody immigrants are taking our jobs: not fine when you realise the person standing next to you is Polish?
Being facetious about really shit things is offensive and exactly who you're talking to really shouldn't come into it.

At 2:48 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"However, it may make some of us more cautious about what we call the traffic warden next time we return to our vehicle to find he or she is just issuing a ticket. Who knows where you could end up?"

Me again, just read that properly now - I'm sorry dear, have you started reading the Daily Mail?
"Oooh it's PC gone mad I tell you, you can't abuse anyone these days what with all these bloody rights and protections and suchlike! In my day you could liken a traffic warden doing their job to a mass murdering right wing fascist. Ah, the good old days. PC GONE MAD"

At 7:21 pm , Blogger Finnieston Crane said...

Anonymous, I refute you thus:

First of all, it is the media and others who seem to have suggested Ken's 'crime' was made all the worse because Finegold is Jewish. I simply point out that there is, in fact, no link between Livingstone's outburst and Finegold's heritage.

Indeed, Livingstone was being facetious but no one could credibly argue that he somehow made light of Nazi crimes by doing so. I don't think it's sensible to compare Ken's actions with homophobia. He was reacting to being hounded and badgered and generally bothered by an unpleasant individual. He then reacted aggressively and made a distasteful but hardly offensive comment. Certainly the person likely to be most offended by the comment, Finegold himself, didn't appear to concerned. Of course, I'm not saying he had to break down crying in order to be offended, but he seemed entirely focused on pestering the mayor and was thinking of little else. I think it more likely Finegold was after a good story and Livingstone played into his hands.

At 11:33 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"there is, in fact, no link between Livingstone's outburst and Finegold's heritage"
Yes there is! The media picked up on the connection that Finegold himself made by identifying himself as a Jew. And one of the most immediate connections one makes with references to concentration camps is Judaism.

'no one could credibly argue that he somehow made light of Nazi crimes'
Well depends where you stand i suppose. He probably didn't mean to but people do lots of things they don't mean to when they're being lazy with language. Maybe some might think he did make light of it, some may think he didn't - it doesn't really matter if only one person is offended by it. Ultimately, why bother say things facetiously which might cause offence? What is anyone getting from that? And maybe you're right, Finegold was just after the story and wasn't really offended - who cares? There's been a hoo ha large enough to show that there is an issue here - what is important is to think carefully about it rather than going bloody hell it's PC gone mad (which calm it, i know you're not really doing - a lot of people will think that though, end of story. Message being: it's fine to say whatever comes into my head, what are you all so touchy about?)

My comparison with homophobia or any other type of identity discrimination is totally valid if what we're talking about is causing offence to groups which are discriminated against in society.

Now sod off, I'm at work - I only posted because I wanted to wind you up! Not that I know you.


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