London Mayor Suspended for Being Rude:

The Evening Standard Web site reports:

London Mayor Ken ... was suspended from duty for four weeks from March 1 after being found guilty of bringing his office into disrepute.

The three-man Adjudication Panel for England unanimously ruled that Mr Livingstone had been "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" to Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold in February last year.

David Laverick, chairman of the disciplinary panel sitting in central London, said: "His treatment of the journalist was unnecessarily insensitive and offensive. He persisted with a line of comment likening the journalist's job to a concentration camp guard, despite being told that the journalist was Jewish and found it offensive to be asked if he was a German war criminal." ...

Thanks to reader Jon Shapiro for the pointer.

Richard Bellamy (mail):
It appears that the European Muslims may have a point. There is no freedom of speech in Europe a pertains to other "anti-group" speech, so why should anti-Muslim speech allowed?

I had always assumed that European freedom of speech laws were generally comparable to America's. Apparently not.
2.24.2006 1:44pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
There is a world perhaps, in which I'd like to see Red Ken thrown into the Thames, but I grudgingly admit that his defense to this is completely sensible. Elected politicians should not be removed from office, unless by the electorate itself, or breaking the law. Apparently being rude to a reporter is breaking the law, but that's not the kind I mean - I'm thinking more along the lines of breaking into a hotel to install wiretaps.
2.24.2006 1:55pm
jgshapiro (mail):
There is another article in the Times on this now with some additional detais. To wit:
The mayor's suspension — a more severe punishment than many had expected — relates to a conversation with a reporter, Oliver Finegold, in which the mayor responded to the reporter's request for comment by saying: "What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?" According to the transcript of the reporter's recording of the exchange, Mr. Finegold replied: "No, I'm Jewish. I wasn't a German war criminal."

Later, the mayor said: "Actually, you are just like a concentration camp guard. You're just doing it 'cause you're paid to, aren't you?" After The Evening Standard reported details of the incident, a leading Jewish organization, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, lodged an official complaint that Mr. Livingstone had broken the ethical code of conduct covering his office.
The ironic thing about this suspension is that it has turned Livingstone into a victim and will undoubtedly engender sympathy for him. If the government had left the matter alone after the press had reported his comments, he would have instead been roundly condemnded for them and his reputation (and political capital) would have suffered as a result.

Another 'victory' for censorship.

Reminds me of the 2 Live Crew controversy in 1989, when attempts to prosecute the band for obscenity in their rap album turned them into martyrs and lead to vastly increased sales for an album (and a band) that would otherwise have been totally ignored.
2.24.2006 3:13pm
hey (mail):
What people seem to be missing is that he did not "break the law". He broke the employment regulations of his employer, the Greater London Council.

When performing one's employment duties, one loses almost all free speech rights. This bar is different in terms of Professors and Politicians, but it seems appropriate that politicians are held to account for egregious statements and conduct. Politicians are liable to sanction for many kinds of speech, especially when they are speaking in their legislature. The Speaker has powers to sanction legislators for merely discourteous words, and in some cases for referring to a minister or member by name, rather than the appropriate elocution such as "Honorable Member" or "Distinguished Gentleman". That the Mayor is subject to conduct guidelines in his day to day activities is unsurprising and uncontroversial.

One must be very careful when looking at these kinds of actions against speech. A Coke spokesman who says in a conference that Pepsi is actually a much better drink and that Coke is polluted swill is almost assured of being fired within 10-20 seconds. Ken's punishment for his despicable actions is also conducted by his employer, which happens to be the London municipal government.

Ken says very many outrageous and despicable things with which I disagree, but he tends to keep these statements to actual political subjects. He is not being punished for a political statment, but rather for treating a reporter (who is likely also a London resident and one of his constituents) in an absolutely vile manner because he works for a newspaper that the Mayor does not like. Consider how people would react if President Bush asked a similar question of a reporter from The New York Times or The Nation. A firestorm would be mild and I can see a serious push for impeachment or at least censure from Congress.
2.24.2006 3:46pm
davod (mail):

Great summation.
2.24.2006 3:57pm
trotsky (mail):
Does anybody know what the "Ajudication Panel for England" is, precisely?


The question comes down to who picked him. If a Cabinet secretary said something similar in the U.S., he or she would doubtless be shown the door. If a college president did, the trustees might sack him or her. If the Speaker of the House did, he might be shipped to a back bench. You say Livingstone is employed by the Greater London Council; did the council hire him as mayor or did the voters?
2.24.2006 3:58pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The question is whether elected officials are just employees, subject to punishment by their "employers" in the sense of other government officials, or whether they're a special sort of employee who can only be disciplined by their employers the voters (whether by recall, non-reelection, or whatever other procedures are allowed). The American view is the latter, see Bond v. Floyd (1966), though of course one can always argue that the better view is the former.
2.24.2006 4:23pm
jgshapiro (mail):
I think trotsky nails the relevant point: Livingstone is not really an employee of the council, because he was hired by the voters. He is an employee of the voters, not the council. If the voters want to fire him in the next election or recall him from office, more power to them.

If the council merely wanted to publicly reprimand or censure Livingstone, as the House of Representatives or Senate might do to a member who makes outrageously discourteous statements on the floor, that would be a different matter. Suspension is qualitatively different from formal denunciation.
2.24.2006 4:26pm
nk (mail) (www):
I wish we had that rule here. We do not pay politicians to exercise their First Amendment rights. They can do that on their own time and off the taxpayers' payroll. Moreover, we do not need them to dirty the office they were elected to.
2.24.2006 5:25pm
LibertyCat (www):
Ken Livingstone wasn't "on the job" at the time the offending comment was made - the reporter had staked out a party Ken was attending. If a UK employer fired a member of staff for being rude at a party, it would be considered unfair dismissal.

There is also the issue that the Adjudication panel is a national body ultimately accountable to national government. If the Mayor of London had misbehaved, the proper body to discipline him is the Greater London Assembly, to which he is nominally accountable.
2.24.2006 8:11pm
digital commuter (mail):
Let's be clear, this is not a case of holocaust denial nor is it a case of free speech.

It's case of intimidation, pure and simple.

First Ken Livingston is a man with power, a government official.

Second, the person he tried to intimidate was a reporter.

Had the reporter insulted the Mayor and been suspended from his paper because of it then it would have been a case of free speech.

Third, Ken got what he deserved and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Let's remember that Mayor Ken supported the ban on cartoons portraying Muhammad and that he supports measures to protect Muslims from hate speech.

For Mayor Ken to now cry free speech is hypocritical in the extreme.

Me thinks the Islamics have so infected out thinking that we can't reason clearly about these issues.
2.24.2006 8:13pm
digital commuter (mail):
"Ken Livingstone wasn't "on the job" at the time the offending comment was made - the reporter had staked out a party Ken was attending."

So what? He is still the Mayor. Does he have a 9-5 job?

Besides this particular Mayor is dyed in the wool Stalinist to boot who has himself endorsed censorship.
2.24.2006 8:17pm
TomCS (mail):
It's a shame that most cases become more complex as the context emerges. I have not too much time for Ken, but he has a wide personal constituency as an 'anti-politician" who has from time to time defeated heavy handed attempts by the New Labour machine to silence him, and whose candidate he thrashed on his first election. He has made enemies in the media, and a long guerilla war has been running between him and in particular the pretty popularist right-wing Evening Standard (think NY Post for style and readership). If I recall correctly the journalist in question had been set to harass Ken with aggressive questions, paparrazi-style, whenever he left his office (the official reception he was attending on this occasion was I believe at "City Hall"). The journo was out to provoke a reaction, and got it. The Jewish journo may or may not have particularly relished the task of baiting a prominent advocate of improving relations in London with the sizable Muslim population, and of the Palestinian take on what is going on the Middle East.

So perhaps a bit of mitigation, and Ken should of course have bitten his tongue. He was out of line, and his elected Assembly should probably have reprimanded him. But you are right to pick up the unlevel playing field aspects of all this. In effect bodies like the ADL have done too good a job for their own constituents in erecting a PC no-criticism zone around things and persons Jewish and Israeli. The parallels with the holocaust denial discussion are clear.

Part of the response must come from the ADL end, to accept that their clients can now live with a bit more defamation, or that others are entitled to a similar degree of sensitivity. In the Ken Livingstone case the actual complaint to the oversight body was made not by the journo or his employers but by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. They might have been better advised to treat it as below contempt, and stand on their dignity. It may no longer be helpful for one community and its institutions to demand the right to be uniquely protected.
2.25.2006 9:34am
digital commuter (mail):
"In effect bodies like the ADL have done too good a job for their own constituents in erecting a PC no-criticism zone around things and persons Jewish and Israeli. The parallels with the holocaust denial discussion are clear."

This has nothing to do with the ADL or "bodies like like the ADL."

This has to do with a Mayor, I don't care how popular he is---Stalin was very popular too, who has himself tried to silence his critics and has advocated censorship.

Besides, Ken L. is an opportunist. While critical of Jews he has gone out of his way to appease the worst Muslim radical pond scum.

I doubt he would have tried to intimidate a Muslim journalist.
2.25.2006 11:34am
digital commuter (mail):
btw: Tom CS,

Jews have hardly been pampered by the ADL. I doubt they even bother to take to court more than 10% (if that much) of cases involving anti-Semitism.

The ADL usually does its work by keeping statistics of assaults on Jews and publicizing the results.

They may also from time to time speak out against well known people who engage in Jew baiting.

This hardly shields the average Jew from anti-Semitic taunts. We are a lot thicker skinned than that. I doubt the Jewish community would have survived two thousand years of hellish assaults and social discrimination had we relied solely on organizations like ADL as a salvo to our egos.
2.25.2006 11:42am
hey (mail):
The Adjudication Board for England reviews the activities of politicians in a similar manner to the House Ethics Committee in the US or the Standards Commissioner for UK MPs. Due to the constitutional structure of the UK, the national government is the font of all power. Currently the UK government has devolved local legislative power in Wales and Scotland to parliaments there. Local legislative power in Northern Ireland has been devolved to a local parliament and retaken several times in response to the actions of the warring parties. In England, Parliament is still sovereign (maintaining the full power of the Crown) and has complete control over municipal governments. All local councils are creatures of the National Parliament and can be restructured at the whim of the Government. Margaret Thatcher used this power to disband the previous London municipal government, made up primarily of very leftwing members, along with the office of Mayor, who happened to be Ken Livingstone, because they were especially active in trying to thwart her policies.

Livingstone was viewed to be in breach of the Greater London Council Code of Conduct. He had previously signed this Code of Conduct and agreed to abide by it. So it is not especially dispositive as to whether an elected executive position should be so reviewable or if it is reviewable in the US. Whether the Adjudication Board is the appropriate place for municipal politicians' conduct to be reviewed, especially those holding non-legislative positions such as London Mayor, is debatable, but the need for some sort of conduct and ethics review mechanism for municipal politicians is necessary, especially given the fixed election dates and lack of intralegislature review mechanism (whether party or whole body) for elected executive positions.

I find myself actually liking this policy of New Labour (which is a shock to say that, as I usually only say that I like Tony Blair on the War and that's it), as municipal politicians tend to be immune from ethical or conduct review given the reasons above, as well as the tendency for what reviews are conducted by municipal governments in North America to be especially expensive, lengthy, and uninformative.

As to the actual conduct of the Mayor, one can listen to the actual conversation here, as well as examine the decision document here. He was asked a completely benign question "how was the event", as told that the reporter was offended, jewish, and didn't appreciate the Mayor's comment and would he not just answer the question, and then verbally attacked agin. Not exactly conduct that is at all appropriate on the part of anyone, especially an elected official. The Adjudication Board said that there was no reason for things to have escalated as far as they did, and held the Mayor responsible thanks to his refusal to apologise for conduct that not only was offensive and vile, but also specifically directed at an individual who likely was one of the Mayor's constituents.
2.26.2006 11:06pm