Former London mayor and Labour Party renegade Ken Livingstone acknowledged on Friday that an anti-Semitic row had damaged the party in Britain's municipal elections, but denied that his contentious comments about Israel were to blame.
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Labour lost two council seats in Bury, the area with the U.K.’s second largest Jewish population, causing a local councilor to accuse the former mayor of causing a “backlash against the Labour party.”
Livingstone was suspended by the party last week after saying that that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s "before he went mad" and killed six million Jews.
While acknowledging in a BBC interview that the anti-Semitism row had "definitely been damaging" for the party, Livingstone blamed "far right" Labour parliamentarians who, he said, had stoked up division in the party and used the anti-Semitism row to damage the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who Livingstone supports.
However, councilor Alan Quinn told the Manchester Evening News that it was “down to one person, and that’s Ken Livingstone. He has caused grotesque offence to the Jewish population in Prestwich with his absolutely awful comments.”
Labour lost out to the Conservatives by a 22 per cent swing in Mr Quinn’s ward of Sedgley. The party also lost to the Liberal Democrats in the Holyrood ward.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell also admitted that the row over anti-Semitism within Labour had set the party back, with big swings to the Tories leading to the losses of the Sedgley ward in Bury and the Eastwood constituency in Scotland, both of which have significant Jewish communities.
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Livingstone defended Labour's performance in the elections.
“What we've seen right the way up to this election was talk about how many hundreds of seats Labour would lose," Livingstone said. "That hasn't happened. The base is there, and it's solid.”
“What was disgraceful was the group of MPs - the embittered old Blairites - who want to get rid of Jeremy saw this as an opportunity to make all sorts of allegations and smears in the hope that would divert attention and damage us massively.”
“But Labour's still done very well... A lot of people have just ignored all that nonsense and gone out and supported Jeremy,” he said.