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At last, Corbyn has forced Livingstone out of Labour

The Labour Party leader has faced up to the reality that credible action against antisemitism meant his former ally had to go

Honour on both sides. Ken Livingstone and his left-wing friends, including Jeremy Corbyn, can say he did nothing seriously wrong. Normal Labour Party members, on the other hand, can say that his incitement to antisemitism has been punished and he has finally taken the running jump he so richly deserved. 

Livingstone’s statement announcing his resignation from Labour, pre-empting the expulsion that seemed inevitable after Shami Chakrabarti issued her judgment a week ago, refused to accept he had done anything wrong. But he grudgingly managed two things: not to mention Hitler; and to apologise.

The apology was slightly better than the traditional politician’s non-apology, “if any offence was caused”. Livingstone brought himself to accept that “the way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community”, and said he was sorry. 

So Livingstone, who is monumentally stubborn, will go to his grave muttering “I was right, you know”, to anyone who will listen. His backers, and some of Corbyn’s more ideological supporters, will insist that he was merely recounting the historical fact that at one point Hitler “supported” Zionism. 

But the rest of us can see how offensive this is. I was actually on Vanessa Feltz’s BBC Radio London show just before Livingstone made those comments two years ago. The context, if anyone can remember now, was some antisemitic posts that Naz Shah, the Labour MP, had shared on Facebook before she was an MP. One suggested solving the problems of the Middle East by moving Israel to the American Midwest.

I said to Feltz that I thought Shah should be allowed to remain in the Labour Party because she had shown contrition and understanding, and had vowed to use her experience to help fight antisemitism among British Muslims. Then on came Livingstone, who started by insisting that Shah’s Facebook posts were not antisemitic and then free-associated about Hitler. 

It was, as Corbyn said in his response to Livingstone’s resignation yesterday, a sad end to a career that had had its controversies but also its achievements. As mayor of London, Livingstone contributed much more than his successor to the success of what is now truly a world city: the congestion charge and the skyscrapers are a permanent monument. 

But it is a career that should have ended two years ago, rather than being dragged out until now, while Livingstone became a figure of fun, the eccentric fool who keeps blurting out “Hitler”, and while Corbyn’s reputation became deep stained with the taint of being soft on antisemitism. 

The most pathetic spectacle of the past few weeks has been that of Corbyn loyalists such as Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, suggesting that Labour’s failure to act decisively enough against antisemitism was the fault of the party’s pre-Corbyn bureaucracy, led by Iain McNicol, the general secretary who was replaced in March. 

But one of the more encouraging sights has been of signs that Corbyn and his close team, including Baroness Chakrabarti, finally realise how important it is that he is seen – better late than never – to be getting to grips with the problem. 

Whatever the negotiations were that led to Livingstone’s decision to resign his party membership, they show that Corbyn has finally done the right thing. He’s a politician: he doesn’t want to offend his hardcore supporters too much. They already think he has conceded too much by insisting that allegations of Labour antisemitism are not “smears”. 

But he had to get Livingstone out of the party, and now he has done it.