UK Politics

Ken’s Operation

Quite sensibly, the Metropolitan Police have refused to provide Ken with a “fig leaf” by investigating Lee Jasper on his say-so, and so now the genuine investigation into Lee Jasper’s role in the grant making process can continue, unhindered”

A piece by Nick Cohen in the Evening Standard exposes Lee Jasper’s hijacking of Operation Black Vote to the ‘re-elect Ken campaign’.

OBV are not happy. They say:

“Every mainstream political party leader has worked with and applauded the efforts of OBV. We have worked tirelessly to encourage and inspire Black communities to engage in the political process and participate in wider civic engagement. Our non-partisan position is unblemished.”

This, of course, is shooting the messenger. It is Lee Jasper giving a self-serving interview in which he trashes all candidates but Ken, warning black voters of the supposedly dire consequences if Ken loses, and then smugly says he’ll be spending his time working with OPV – obviously to avoid the calamities he predicts – to get black voters out to the polls.

The message is clear. The black community must rally behind Jasper to support Ken.

Cohen notes in his piece, Ken has no right to take the black vote for granted, “You could get away with such patronising politics when Livingstone was young in the 1980s but not, I think, now.”

The idea that the black, gay, jewish, muslim, women.. “communities” have singular interests and should fall serf-like behind squire politicians, regardless, is archaic and insulting. There are gay SWPers and black LibDems, just as there are gay, black Tories. Just because one falls into a ‘minority’ demographic, doesn’t mean one automatically fits into a neat minority consensus politic. Why do some think that only white, middle-class men can have a diversity of opinion?

As Cohen says, through Jasper’s cynical weaving of a denunciation of Ken’s opponents into an invocation of OBV, “Operation Black Vote is little better. It unintentionally treats blacks as second-class citizens for whom the normal political choices between Labour, Tory, Lib-Dem and Green aren’t available. Its not-so-subtle message is that blacks don’t have a choice.”

In their response to Cohen, OBV say:

“Throughout every election campaign OBV has maintained its high standard of judging candidates and their parties impartially. That will not change.”

Noble intentions, but with OBV drafted in to defend Jasper with specific regard to allegations involving his role as aide to Ken Livingstone, and Jasper’s shameless acknowledgement in The Voice that “Ken is the candidate of choice”, some might think this impossible.

And, of course, once again, Lee Jasper has shown his contempt for the rules. The Electoral Commission – which incidentally helps fund OBV – is very clear on the rules governing well-funded Third Party participation in elections. Other groups and campaigns seeking to influence the outcomes of elections by endorsing parties or candidates, such as The Campaign for an Independent Britain, Muslim Friends of Labour and Unite Against Fascism, have all registered. But not OBV.

Why? Simple. They wish to deny that they’re attempting to influence election outcomes. Firstly, it would jeopardise its laudable cross-party schemes in other parts of the country. And secondly, it would imperil the position of Lee Jasper, it’s chair.

In fact, is his position as chair while a senior aide to an incumbent in a major election not an untenable conflict of interest to begin with? Should he really be advertising his work in OBV while endorsing his boss and bad-mouthing his rivals in a newspaper interview?

For example, take this story in the black press. It begins:

A group of community projects based in south London are at risk of closure following a political smear campaign designed to oust London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

.. and predictably ends with Lee Jasper’s famous quote about working with OBV to “to register as many of our people to vote”. Once again, Jasper raises the spector of the “black community” losing out unless they register to vote – and more importantly – vote for Ken.

The Electoral Commission should immediately review its funding of Operation Black Vote while investigating a breach of its own rules by Lee Jasper.

Other political parties (and those in Labour who do not endorse Ken Livingstone) should also ask urgent questions before continuing to support an organisation that appears to be departing from its original worthy aims and moving towards political power-brokering of an altogether more sinister kind.

What Lee Jasper should have said was something like “Obviously I work for Ken and would like to see him re-elected, but whichever party you support, it is important for black people to get out and vote and be a part of the political process.” That is on-message for an OBV office-bearer. Instead, what he said was “Obviously, it is important for the mayor’s campaign to get back to the substantive issues facing London – transport, housing, crime. This will give him an opportunity to do that. I think people see that the other candidates don’t have substantive policy positions on any of the major issues. Ken, standing on his record and his manifesto, will be declared the candidate of choice.”

This is unacceptable for a person chairing a supposedly non-partisan, taxpayer-funded, public initiative to say.