Ken Livingstone and the freedom of speech

Once again, Ken Livingstone is embroiled in a row over a controversial statement. Once again, the former independent/Labour Mayor of London has made inflammatory remarks. It is becoming increasingly clear to anyone following the political debate in the UK that the Labour Party has a considerable problem with anti-Semitism.

It should be stressed that recent statements from Ken Livingstone and other representatives of the Labour Party have been anti-Semitic in their nature, and their suspensions, therefore, are correct. However, we must act with caution, especially in the current time. The ever-so-difficult balance between the freedom of speech and the protection against abuse must be found.

All too often contemporary prejudice is used to deny the right to debate historical issues. Political correctness poses a significant threat to the actual freedom of speech that we are practising by limiting the areas of debate before issues are even brought to the table. It is essential for any functioning democracy to have a climate where issues can be debated, in a calm and orderly manner, without resorting to either PC censorship or abuse. Yet another difficult balance to be found.

Ken Livingstone claims that his remarks that Hitler was a Zionist are merely a reflection of history. Others tetracycline to buy hotly dispute this. He has the right to say this, of course, however much his view represents a narrow understanding of history. Hitler was in favour of removing the Jews from Germany, but this does not make him a Zionist.

Livingstone’s remark, that Hitler was a Zionist before ‘going mad’, highlights a faulty understanding of what Zionism as a movement before 1948 stood for. Its primary goals were the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and the liberation of Jews from the antisemitic discrimination and persecution that was experienced by their diaspora. Hitler clearly believed in no such thing, leaving us with the conclusion that Ken Livingstone should check up on his history before making remarks that will inevitably be inflammatory.

Having a deficient understanding of history, however, should not automatically lead to a suspension. If we practised this across the political parties, very few would remain. For the sake of our democracy, we must tread carefully and sometimes allow ourselves to be a bit insulted.

On this occasion, Ken Livingstone did go too far, but we need to be mindful.

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John Lindberg 32 Articles
John Lindberg is a former policy adviser to Sir Jamie McGrigor MSP and a self-declared science geek. His main interests are energy and environmental issues, with a burning passion for nuclear power. He recently graduated with a First from the University of Glasgow, MA (Hons) in Politics.

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