A Mayoral Snow Job

WATCHING Ken Livingstone at the mayoral press conference yesterday was like watching an old bare-knuckle fighter. Horrible, revolting even, but you had to admire his nerve. He spun away from danger so adroitly you could blink and miss the trickiness of the foot movements. He landed low blows, and then turned to the referee as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
Ostensibly he was releasing a report by “leading academics and experts on Islam” on Islamophobia. He had a poll which showed that Muslim Londoners weren’t very different from other Londoners, which was fair enough, and descriptions of the prejudices Muslim journalists face. However, these revelations were merely a build up to the shocking news that “leading academics and experts” had found that 91 per cent of articles on Islam “were negative in their associations”.
Ninety one per cent! Imagine. I knew there was bigotry, but not the “torrent of Islamophobic demonistaion,” Livingstone described. Where could we get further particulars?
We couldn’t, initially. Although Livingstone had sat on the report for weeks no copies were available to study before the conference – “problems with couriers,” apparently. It arrived while Livingstone was speaking and as we skim read we learned that it was giving Islam “negative associations” to report that the Iranian regime was holding a conference of Holocaust deniers. Muslim democrats in Iran opposed it. Livingstone and his “leading academics” could not. Meanwhile, Journalists – including me – conveyed “negative associations” when we wrote that Jack Straw was standing up for the rights of women when he criticised the full veil. Muslim feminists oppose the veil. Mr Livingstone and his “leading academics and experts” cannot.
The worst of it was that a large chunk of the report was a devious attack on a Panorama expose of the Muslim Council of Britain by John Ware of the BBC. As luck would have it, Ware was at the press conference and able to point out that all the criticisms of the MCB he broadcast came from liberal-minded British Muslims. Were they like Iranian democrats and Arab feminists Islamophobes as well?
Then Ware looked at the press release and noticed that one of Livingstone’s nine “leading academics and experts” wasn’t an academic or expert at all but Inayat Bungawala of the MCB. Later I found out that the two other Muslims on the panel were from the MCB as well. At a cost of £30,000 to the taxpayer, Livingstone was allowing the MCB and its friends to rubbish a well-sourced and balanced documentary and dressing up the results as an impartial study.
I’ve written a book on why the left is going along with the Islamist right and won’t go over it all again here. The political point is that while the Labour government has cut links with the MCB, and announced that no organisation will receive public money until it explicitly opposes extremism, Livingstone can’t admit a mistake. He never explains, never apologises and always attacks. The bumbling Boris Johnson is going to find him a ferociously hard opponent to beat.

WHEN THE BBC began filming Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford in June, the drama department worried about holding the attention of viewers. To be sure, it’s a beautifully observed story of women in a Victorian provincial town. But the plot is slow save for one twist: the crash of the local bank. You can see the problem. Bank crashes were common enough in the 19th century, but would 21st century viewers understand people convulsed by the panicking fear that their status, home and dreams for their children could vanish when there hadn’t been a run on a bank since Disraeli’s day?
Five months and one credit crunch later, BBC1 shows the first episode of The Cranford Chronicles at 9pm on Sunday.

Casual members of the audience for Cloud Nine might assume the Almeida’s managers bore a grudge against Caryl Churchill and wanted to mortify her by dragging up juvenile work. Not so, I’m afraid. The Almeida is staging her 1978 agitprop without malice or irony, and expects us to take it seriously.
In the first half it presents a white colonial family in Africa filled with vicious hypocrites. The empire was a very bad thing we are told. In the second, the family’s children appear in Seventies’ London and find true freedom in the permissive society. Sex, preferably gay and maybe incestuous, is a very good thing we are told. I looked across the playhouse and realised the intellectual crisis in London’s theatre I mentioned last week was deeper than I thought. Even the Islington audience seemed bored and embarrassed.

THE CALL from the doctors on the Nuffield Council for higher alcohol taxes to counter drink-fuelled crime and disease is well meant but delusory. The council assumes that all the government needs do is agree to its recommendation and our habits will change.
But Gordon Brown’s Britain isn’t the only place the British buy booze. We can already legally bring in 10 litres of cheap spirits, 90 litres of wine, 20 litres of fortified wine (such as port or sherry), and 110 litres of beer a head from France “for our own use”. If alcohol taxes, which are already the second highest in Europe, rise further, many more will head to the Calais hypermarkets along with, I’d guess, professional smugglers serving a black market. If you want to change behaviour you have to persuade people not bludgeon them and accept that regulation has its limits.

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