I am not going to discuss the rights and wrongs of Ken Livingstone’s comments on the Vanessa Feltz show this week. No, no, no, that is far too dangerous territory for a non-expert. I should also stress that what I am saying here should not be seen as a reflection of views in Cambridge Area Momentum and Momentum more generally. There has been some serious and considered discussion within the local group and we have not yet reached a consensus position (indeed, if that will even happen at all).
I want to make a more general point in relation to what Ken Livingstone said and Jeremy Corbyn’s new politics. Which for me, means a broader and fairer discussion of issues and policy. The antithesis to the media tendency to reduce issues to (emotive) dichotomies, the reaction to Ken Livingstone’s comments is a case in point.
Ken Livingstone made a rather off-the-cuff statement about Hitler and Zionists, I don’t know enough about history or the contemporary issues that he referred to. The reaction from the media, and apparently more generally, was swift in condemnation. His comment touched a raw nerve, a particularly sensitive issue no doubt, but what power was at play here too? There have been suggestions – not without merit – that the right wing of the Labour Party was involved in escalating the issue, beyond this there has been suggestion of involvement by the Conservative Party and even the state of Israel. The result has been mass outrage for which I have no idea how much is real and how much has been manufactured by the media. It is my view that some outrage might be fair, but so much has been inflated by those using the situation politically or by those in the media wanting to create a spectacle and increase ratings.
This is where I have a problem. As I have said, I am no expert. I am no expert on Israel, Zionism, anti-Semitism, Judaism or pre-war Nazi policy. However, the tragedy here is open democratic discussion. There has been limited possibility for the public to engage in the complexities, subtleties, multiple interpretations and implications surrounding the point made by Ken Livingstone. This has all been washed away in a wave of media-fuelled hysteria.
The possibility afforded by Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the Labour Party was new politics. For me that is more than just political dichotomies and polarities, but a chance to engage more people in the complexity of issues. For people to share ideas, opinions and experience, to improve democratic participation. The popular political media have failed to respond to this. This perhaps reinforces the fact that we do not have a free media, the media organisations we have are overly susceptible to influence. An influence that finds it expedient to reduce issues to good versus bad and right versus wrong, without making the complexity of issues transparent. The tragedy of Livingstone’s comments has been the suppression of open debate.