The American journalist H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) once said: “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” So, here we are, defending Ken Livingstone, the extreme-left London Mayor.
On Friday a case tribunal of three judges suspended Mr Livingstone from office for four weeks because the Mayor had compared a Jewish journalist, Oliver Finegold of The London Evening Standard, to a Nazi camp guard.
There is no doubt that Mr Livingstone had offended the journalist. The question, however, is whether making offensive remarks is sufficient reason for an unelected body of judges to suspend a democratically elected official. To accept this is to accept as legitimate that not the people rule, but the judiciary.
Ken Livingstone responded: “This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law. Three members of a body that no one has ever elected should not be allowed to overturn the votes of millions of Londoners.” For once, ‘red Ken’ is right.
The British authorities have tried to duck the question, raised earlier this month by the Danish cartoon case, whether one is allowed to publish drawings that are considered by some to be “offensive.” Not a single national British newspaper republished the Danish Muhammad cartoons. They were praised for this by Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary.
British judges have now suspended Mr Livingstone for offending a Jewish reporter. At least the British are consistent. No Muslim can reproach Britain as Dyab Abu Jahjah is reproaching the rest of the West, for allowing the offending of Muslims, but not of Jews. If there is any inconsistenvy here, it is in Mr Livingstone's attitude. On 11 February he joined Muslims who were protesting the publication of the “offensive” Muhammad cartoons, and blamed “much of Europe’s media to engage in an orgy of Islamophobia.” Surely, if a privately owned Danish paper is not allowed to “engage in an orgy of Islamophobia” the Mayor of all Londoners is not allowed to behave like a ‘Judeophobe.’
‘Red Ken’ may be a scoundrel and a hypocrite. Nevertheless, the only people allowed to punish the Mayor by removing him from office for comparing a journalist to “a German war criminal” and “a concentration camp guard” are the London voters, not the three judges of a case tribunal.
This is not the first time that judges usurp the prerogative of the electorate to appoint their own representatives. In November 2004 the Belgian Supreme Court declared the Vlaams Blok, the largest party in the country, to be “a criminal organisation,” thereby effectively banning it. At the time Stephen Pollard wrote in The Times “I’ve seen the future: it’s scary and Belgian.” Sadly, we have now had another glimpse of the future, equally scary and British.