KEN Livingstone yesterday accused “embittered old Blairites” of stoking the row over anti-Semitism within Labour as part of a wider plot to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
The former London mayor, who was suspended by Labour on Thursday for saying Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s, also repeatedly refused to apologise for his comments.
Despite Labour facing crucial elections round the country this week, Livingstone ensured the row continued with an appearance on radio station LBC and more media interviews.
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He claimed MPs who had never wanted Corbyn as leader were trying to use the issue to damage Labour’s election campaign in order to oust Corbyn after a poor result.
He said: “If you look at what this is all about, it's not about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party… What this is all about is actually the struggle of the embittered old Blairite MPs to try to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn.”
The row began on Tuesday after the blogger Guido Fawkes revealed new Bradford West MP Naz Shah had posted anti-Semitic material on social media nine months before she was elected.
One suggested Israeli Jews should be transported to the United States, while another said “the Jews are rallying”.
Shah apologised and resigned as an aide to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. She also apologised to MPs in the Commons the following days.
However it was not until later that Labour withdrew the whip from her.
Livingstone then intervened on Thursday to defend her, and made his remarks about Hitler.
He told BBC London: “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
The comments led to an extraordinary public slanging match with Labour MP John Mann, who accused Livingstone of being a “Nazi apologist” in front of a throng of TV cameras.
Livingstone, a long-term Corbyn ally, was suspended and Mann disciplined by the party.
Amid mounting criticism of anti-Semitism within Labour, Corbyn announced an independent inquiry on Friday led by the former head of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti.
The row has become part of the wider civil war within Labour over Corbyn’s leadership, with many of his critics pressing for Livingstone’s expulsion. “There are people who want to use this to smash and bash the Corbyn project,” one shadow frontbencher said.
Livingstone yesterday said sorry to Corbyn for causing “disruption”, but refused to retract his remarks on Hitler as he claimed they were “historical facts”.
He said Corbyn was “clearly not very happy” with the situation but he would “take a bullet” to keep him in power.
“I am not doing any more interviews because the Labour Party has got to get away from all this nonsense and back to getting the vote out on Thursday,” he said.
“But the simple fact is that I did not create this problem - it was created by a bunch of embittered Blairite MPs who stirred up all this nonsense about anti-Semitism.
"The really appalling thing here is dishonest MPs who know that what I said is true have stirred up all this nonsense because they want to damage our chances at the local election so they then have a chance of undermining Jeremy. Now I don't think that is going to happen.”
Corbyn Tweeted yesterday: “There is no place for anti-Semitism or any form of racism in the Labour Party, or anywhere in society.”
McDonnell said: “I just wish Ken would have apologised for some of the offence that he's caused. I know he's said he regrets what he's said, but I think he should now apologise.”
Shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Ashworth said it was Livingstone who was undermining Corbyn and urged him to “put a sock in it”, adding: “I think Ken crossed a line.”
The row yesterday spilled into the Holyrood election, with Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale describing it as “deeply regrettable” and calling the review into racism a “right step”.
She said: “The events of this past week are very much against the grain of that proud history of our party. So strong action needs to be taken and Jeremy Corbyn is leading the way.
“It's quite clearly at the front of the TV news bulletins and on the front pages of the newspapers and that's deeply regrettable when this should be the final week of a campaign focused on how we're going to stop the cuts, invest in education and use the new powers of the Scottish Parliament. Of course I don't want it to have an impact on this election.”