Over the past week scarcely a day has gone by without an impassioned attack on Ken Livingstone by a Labour supporter. Nick Cohen in The Observer writes:
I will vote for Labour assembly members, then Green, Lib Dem or something equally silly for mayor, and offer no second preference. If Johnson wins by one vote, I'll say that was Labour's fault for putting forward Livingstone, not mine. We own the politicians. They don't own us.
Cohen feels that Livingstone "is a hypocrite worthy of the pen of a Swift or Dickens." Livingstone "is now the champion of the suffering 99% and enemy of the despised 1%."
Livingstone has said:
"Cameron's problem is too many of his team have become super-rich by exploiting every tax fiddle. No one should be allowed to vote in a British election, let alone sit in our parliament, unless they are paying their full share of tax."
He was talking about himself. Livingstone and his wife are not a couple but a company – Silveta Ltd. He channels his money from media appearances and speeches into the firm rather than declaring it as personal income. The accounts for 2009/10 show he had almost £320,000 stored in Silveta in cash, after clearing £284,000 after tax and expenses – figures that put Livingstone comfortably in the 1%. With this deft manoeuvre, Livingstone could avoid the higher rate of income tax at 40% then (50% now) and instead pay corporation tax at 21% then (20% now).
Unlike American candidates for public office, British politicians do not release their tax returns – it is well past time that they did.
Cohen adds that some of the money came from Press TV "the state propaganda station for the Iranian dictatorship."
Then there was a former Labour candidate Jonathan Roberts, writing on an open letter to Livingstone on Labour Uncut.
Your supporters will say I’m disloyal to the Labour Party, but don’t seem to mind you campaigning against our candidate in Tower Hamlets.
Your supporters cheered you when you called tax avoiders “rich bastards”, but they don’t seem to mind the £50,000 you have allegedly avoided yourself.
Your supporters criticise Boris Johnson as a “part time Mayor” for churning out a weekly article for the Telegraph, but they don’t seem to mind that you were an MP and a writer for the Independent during substantial parts of your own Mayoral tenure.
Your supporters sing about how you speak the truth, but don’t seem to mind how independent fact-checking organisations regularly describe your claims as “fiction”.
Your supporters were delighted when you announced you would reintroduce the EMA for London, giving hope to thousands of kids, but they don’t seem to mind that the Mayor has no power to reintroduce EMA at all. Nor do they seem to mind you making a promise you knew full well you would be unlikely to deliver on.
But do you know what Ken? I mind. I do. Your relentless cynicism and negativity is matched only by your hypocrisy. And I mind all three.
Mehdi Hasan at the New Statesman asks:
What on earth was Team Ken thinking? Why did none of the former mayor's aides raise any objections to his legal yet dodgy tax arrangements? The simple truth is this: you cannot run as the populist, banker-bashing candidate, the one who backs higher taxes on "rich bastards", if you're quietly channelling hundreds of thousands of pounds of your own earnings into a company jointly owned with your wife. You just can't.
Former Labour Party manager Rob Marchant blogs that it is "stretching loyalty an awful lot to ask us to continue to support a man who, in his recent history, has shown precious little to us".
Stockholm Syndrome was originally used to describe the effect of hostages feeling sympathy for their captors, but it’s come to mean pretty much any abusive relationship where the abused party keeps making excuses and coming back for more. And, let’s face it, you would have had to come up with some pretty inventive excuses over the last decade.
Ah, but the reason for the London Mayoralty to do an oil deal with Venezuela – well, ok, it wasn’t really for oil but for money – wasn’t to make a political point, it was in fact…
Ah, but the Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a perfectly reasonable feller for a Labour politician to be supporting. He didn’t mean all those things about Jews, killing homosexuals, genital mutilation or wife-beating, he meant…
Ah, but it was quite legitimate to campaign with Lutfur Rahman, backed by the obnoxious Islamic Forum of Europe, against the official Labour party candidate in Tower Hamlets, because…
Ah, but the obvious reason for calling a Jewish journalist a “concentration camp guard” was…
At the Daily Telegraph, Dan Hodges blogs:
Say one thing. Do another. Campaign against tax avoidance. Flirt with tax avoidance. Hold more than one job as Mayor. Campaign against people having more than one job as Mayor. Champion gay rights. Embrace a Muslim cleric who advocates the murder of homosexuals.
It could be Ken’s campaign motto. Do as I say, not as I do.
But it doesn’t really matter any more. Ken could have a great campaign motto. Or no motto at all. Tax and tax avoidance is going to be the defining issues of the next few months. And Ken Livingstone is now closely associated with the issue of tax avoidance. Ed Balls will ensure we all remember that.
There was one blog I saw offering a "defence". But it wasn't very spirited. Sunny Hundal writing at Liberal Conspiracy felt the timing was unhelpful. He says:
He feted the City and said little about the need to regulate banks then; he was sometimes reluctant on green issues and only signed up because he needed Green AMs to pass his budget; he employed and defended numpties like Lee Jasper. Etc etc.
But he’s the candidate and it makes no sense to throw these charges nine weeks before an election.
With friends like that….
How many Labour activists out canvassing, leafleting and manning street stalls this morning in the Mayoral election campaign are privately ashamed of and embarrassed by their candidate?