Owen Jones is following in the footsteps of Mehdi Hasan. By this I mean that he - Jones - is also urging upon us a two-way-choice approach to the mayoral election in the capital. In his own concluding words:
The battle is on – between an imperfect Labour candidate, and the perfect embodiment of Britain's booming elite.
Jones, however, isn't following in the footsteps of the senior editor (politics) at the New Statesman in every respect. No, he for his part doesn't evade what one might call the Livingstone-Jewish question with a mere six words, in the way that Hasan did. On the contrary, bigotry against Jews, Jones says, is not something he takes lightly; having lived with two close Jewish friends who are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, he is well aware of how fresh the memory still is of the attempted extermination of the Jewish people.
If he doesn't take it lightly, one may infer that he takes it seriously. So let us do him the courtesy of measuring what he writes according to that, his own professed standard. I will suggest that by this measure he shows himself, thrice, to be not all that serious.
First, Jones simply dismisses the reaction to Livingstone's remarks about rich Jews not being likely to vote for him, as being a cynical misconstrual by Livingstone's critics of the 'old anti-Semitic caricature' regarding wealthy Jews. Let us suppose - to imagine the best case - that in Livingstone's mind at the time of these remarks of his there was no ill intent of the indicated sort. I don't know if there was or not, being unable to see into Livingstone's mind. But suppose it. Even so, should someone who takes the possibility of anti-Jewish bigotry seriously simply brush aside the deployment by a senior politician of the left of a trope with this particular history? I am unaware that the sociology of racial and ethnic prejudice has now arrived at the conclusion that these social evils are reducible to deliberate intent, rather than being also - as they are - embodied in social practices and languages which deal in pejorative stereotypes. Even if Livingstone made a mistake, a mistake is what it was, and it is not necessarily cynical if some Jewish people were upset by the remarks.
Second, this is the sole aspect of the Livingstone-Jewish question that Jones addresses. He must know, however, that Livingstone has previous form here: Jonathan Freedland reviewed it in a widely publicized piece in the Guardian last month. If Jones doesn't take these things lightly, how come no word of explanation in response?
Third, Jones argues that Ken Livingstone is a veteran in 'the cause of anti-racism'. Good for Livingstone to the extent that that is true. But for Jones to imagine that it is an effective alibi regarding the matter under discussion lacks both logic and historical judgement. Logically: there is nothing that rules out someone who campaigns against racism in general from himself harbouring prejudices against one or another specific group. Historically: it has been plain as day for some good while now that anti-Semitic themes have been turning up within a section of the left, the same left that proudly boasts of its anti-racist credentials: from versions of the blood libel, to allegations precisely that the Jews are rich and powerful, control the media, and so forth, to the apologetic condoning of the terrorist murder of innocents where these innocents are Israeli Jews, to analogies between Israel and Nazism which are not remotely defensible - and the rest. That Ken Livingstone 'was pushing the cause of anti-racism in the early 1980s' does not, consequently, suffice to allay the worries referred to here.
Jones can vote for Livingstone if he wants and he can also try to persuade others to do so. He may feel that other things outweigh the Livingstone-Jewish question. But if he really does take seriously the issue of bigotry against Jews, he needs to come up with something more persuasive than he has in today's Independent.