The Day British Politics Actually Became an Episode of The Thick of It

By James O Malley on at

What kind of day has it been? Remember The Thick Of It? Armando Iannucci’s Westminster comedy is undeniably brilliant… but surely real politics isn’t quite this manic?

It turns out that it’s all true.

Enter Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London who for some reason has decided to spend the day talking about… Hitler.

You may have seen the news yesterday about the Bradford West MP Naz Shah landing in hot water after Facebook posts from 2014 (before she was elected) emerged in which she shared memes calling for Israelis to be relocated to America - not something that a serious politician who is aware of the historical baggage should even be talking about.

That was bad enough for the Labour leadership as Shah was the Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS - glorified secretary and helper) to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. And after a day of faffing about, the upshot was that she was sacked from her PPS gig, and even had the whip suspended (meaning that she is no longer technically a Labour MP - and now sits independently). Problem solved, right?

But then, this morning, it all got a whole lot worse when Vanessa Feltz invited Ken on to her BBC London radio show to ask him what he thought about the mess. For some reason he decided to mention Hitler, and certainly had a provocative interpretation on the history, arguing that Hitler “was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Yep - forget the Junior Doctors, the EU Referendum or Hillsborough. Ken decided that today was a great day for everyone in politics to argue about Hitler’s policies.

And this was only the beginning.

Horrified, Labour MPs started to call for Ken, who is no longer an MP, to be suspended from the Labour Party. This ended up with Labour MP John Mann, who chairs the Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, shouting at Ken and calling him a racist, while the TV cameras rolled in front of them.

Oh, and this all happened while Ken was on the phone. Speaking live on the radio to LBC - defending his earlier comments. This all took place at Millbank, the row of offices just across the road from Parliament, where the broadcasters all have studios. Yep - determined to dig deeper, Ken was about to defend his comments again on The Daily Politics on BBC Two, and then The World At One on Radio 4. So Andrew Neil spent 20 minutes talking to Ken about anti-semitism in the Labour Party (where he repeatedly denied it was a problem) - and once again he decided to argue about the Nazis. After Nick Clegg essentially asked “WTF?!”, but in the slightly more politer way you’d expect from a Member of Parliament. Yes, this is a man who is not an MP, not a minister or a candidate - he doesn’t really need to be giving interviews. As he said on the Daily Politics, he had just planned to be in his garden all day. It just appears that he fell onto a Tube train and ended up in a TV studio. While this was happening, a bunch of Labour MPs officially called for Ken to be suspended from the Labour Party. Even Jon Lansman, the leader of Momentum - the group that got Jeremy Corbyn elected leader of the party and a wing of the party which is seen as broadly aligned with Ken, called for him to retire.

  And then after those two more disastrous media appearances? Umm, Ken went and hid in a disabled toilet to avoid any awkward questions about Hitler while the nation’s top political journalists waited outside.

Seemingly while he was in the toilet (it’s unclear whether he was just hiding or taking care of business for a really long time), the news broke that the Labour leadership had decided that yes, Ken would be suspended from the Labour Party - the sort of move that you might hope would draw a line under this shitshow.


But then, such is the state of the Labour Party in 2016, there’s now also rumours that John Mann could be suspended too - presumably because it would partially pacify those on the left of the party, who are both fans of Livingstone and are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. Certainly, it appears that Labour’s top spinner doesn’t agree with the decision.

And now it appears almost certain that the story will continue to rumble on. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader, still hasn’t been seen in public yet so it’s inevitable at some point he’ll emerge and be asked about it - and given his track record, it seems unlikely that he’ll put an end to it. Not least because Ken Livingstone is both ideologically close to him, and a friend. So we can look forward to that too.

To think, we could be enjoying National Ed Balls Day instead. Meanwhile did we mention there’s an election next week? So, umm, good luck with that one, Labour.