Here's how the former Mayor of London plunged Labour into chaos

It hasn’t taken former London mayor Ken Livingstone long to plunge the Labour into chaos after being made a co-chair of the party’s defence review on Wednesday.

First, Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for  North Durham, told the Politics Home blog that Livingstone knows nothing about defence.

“I’m not sure Ken knows anything about defence. It will only damage our credibility amongst those that do and who care about defence,” said Jones.

Then Livingstone hit back, telling the Mirror that Jones needed psychiatric help:”I think [Jones] might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed. He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”

Jones, who has been open about suffering from depression, hit back saying that he found Livingstone’s comments “gravely offensive not just personally but also to the many thousands who suffer from mental illness.”

If Labour were running an effective communications operation, they would have got Livingstone to immediately apologise. Labour is not running an effective media operation.

In an interview on the LBC radio station, Livingstone refused to apologise, saying that Jones was “rude about me, I was rude back. He needs to get over it.”

The defence review is a major undertaking that will help decide Labour’s policy on Trident nuclear missiles, one of the most contentious issues facing the party.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a long time anti-nuclear campaigner who has said he wouldn’t authorise the use of nuclear missiles if he was Prime Minister, but many members of his shadow cabinet, including Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle, are “pro trident.”

Eagle will co-chair the review with Livingstone. Eagle only found out about Livingstone’s appointment when she read the news this morning and was reported to be furious at the decision. It was very understandable that she was upset; two days ago Livingstone went on TV and said Eagle was “mad” if she thought it was worth spending money on renewing the Trident nuclear weapon programme.



This incensed Labour MPs who took to Twitter in their droves in order to slam their newly appointed defence review co-chair. 








At this point, Corbyn himself should have been on the phone to Livingstone, demanding he issue an apology. Instead, Labour’s press operation issued a statement on Corbyn’s behalf, saying Livingstone should apologise. 

Jeremy is incredibly concerned that people with mental health problems shouldn’t be stigmatised. He has worked with Kevan in the past on this issue and is impressed by his bravery in speaking out on his own mental health issues. Ken should apologise to him straight away.

Unfortunately for the Labour press office, Livingstone didn’t pay any attention to them, once again refusing to apologise on a radio interview, this time on the BBC’s World at One programme. “If he’s upset I’m sorry. I grew up in south London if someone’s rude to you, you’re rude back,” Livingstone defiantly proclaimed.

 Twenty minutes later he finally issued an apology through Twitter.


The whole episode reveals that Labour has two big problems.

One is that labour MPs are increasingly happy to openly weigh in on issues that will generate bad press for their party.

The second is that Labour’s press operation is a complete shambles; they could easily have shut down today’s drama, instead they allowed it to play out simply because they didn’t think they should get involved.

If Labour don’t pull themselves together, they risk seriously damaging themselves next time they need to deal with a negative story.

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