There will be no apology
Mayor's Statement, 22 February 2005
A week ago I said it was not my intention to apologise to the journalist from Daily Mail group or his employers. Upon a further
week of reflection in which I have read everything written in the press about this controversy and after considerable debate with many Londoners I have decided to stand by that position. There will therefore be no apology or expression of regret to the Daily Mail group.
To the Daily Mail group journalist I say this. You are responsible for your own actions. That you are paid by Daily Mail group to do
the job you do is not a defence for your behaviour. Pursuing me along the pavement thrusting your tape recorder at me whilst
repeatedly barking the same question when I had clearly indicated I did not wish to be interviewed by you is not acceptable behaviour by you or any other journalist. Indeed a member of the public behaving in this way could find themselves arrested for a breach of peace.
Many other journalists will confirm I have made similar comments to them over the last twenty-four years. You are the first to complain. If you feel that my comments are too harsh or robust then you are most probably in the wrong job and certainly working for the wrong newspaper group.
Whilst this journalistic technique of door stepping may be appropriate when dealing with people who do not make themselves
available to the media this is not a complaint that can be levelled against myself. Every week my press conference is open to any
journalist from Britain or abroad and I have never yet left a press conference before I have answered every question journalists wish to put to me. For issues that arise urgently I am invariably able to accommodate requests for information with a quote and more often than not a radio or a television interview as required.
To the Daily Mail group I say that no-one in Britain is less qualified than they to complain about anti-semitism. Their papers
were not, as some have reported, guilty of "a brief flirtation" with Adolf Hitler in the l930s. In truth these papers were the leading
advocates of anti-semitism in Britain for half a century.
Beginning a hundred years ago with their campaign to stop Jewish refugees fleeing to Britain from Russia they carried on right the
way through the rise of Hitler and even after the start of World War II still felt free to peddle the lie that Germany's Jews had brought the holocaust upon themselves. I have set out in detail the record of the Daily Mail group in my formal response to the London Assembly.
Whilst it is true the Mail group no longer smears Jews as bringing crime and disease to the UK it is only because they have moved on. After a decade of pandering to racism against our citizens of Black and Irish origin they have moved on and now describe asylum seekers and Muslims in similar terms. For the Mail group the victims may change but the intolerance, hatred and fear pervade every issue of the papers.
What was the motive of the Mail group in whipping up this media fire storm? If insulted why did the Daily Mail group journalist or the editor of the Evening Standard not get in touch and say they thought I had gone too far? If the Daily Mail group journalist had expressed regret for his behaviour on the street I would have been happy to withdraw my comments and assure him I bore him no hard feelings.
If the editor of the Evening Standard could have explained why in five years of mayoral receptions this was the first one at which
they had chosen to photograph every guest as they left, I might have been persuaded by her answer.
Instead the editor held the story back from the Wednesday and Thursday editions. This is rather surprising in the light of the
Evening Standard's claim to be "first with the news". When the story finally appeared on Friday it was with a screaming headline claiming my words were "a race slur".
In all the tens of thousands of words devoted to this story in the last two weeks no paper has been able to show that my words
contravened any clause in any of the Acts of Parliament that deal with racism, or anti-semitism or that they were anti-semitic or
Is it the case that whilst not racist or anti-semitic my words were so offensive they should never have been uttered?
Clearly the the leading Jewish newspaper the Jewish Chronicle does not think so. On February 7th 2003 they published a letter accusing Professors Hilary and Stephen Rose of being kapos (concentration camp inmates serving as guards). The Roses complained to the Jewish Chronicle and the Press Complaints Commission. The Press Complaints Commission rejected the Roses complaint on the grounds that the Jewish Chronicle had printed a letter of rebuttal on the Roses.
Clearly, the Jewish Chronicle and the Press Complaints Commission did not feel that this term diminished the holocaust.
If we want to see an example of an inappropriate use of the term holocaust we need look no further than the Daily Mail writer Quentin Letts who described Labour MP Andrew Dismore as "a Holocaust bore".
I refer to the holocaust because it is the most extreme example of evil in my own array of moral reference points.
Over the last two weeks my main concern has been that many Jewish Londoners have been disturbed by this whipped up row. I do not equate the actions of one reporter with the total abdication of responsibility shown by those who were complicit to whatever degree in the horrors of the holocaust. But I do believe that abdicating responsibility for one's actions by the excuse that "I am only doing my job" is the thin end of the immoral wedge that at its other extreme leads to the crimes and horrors of Auschwitz, Rwanda and Bosnia.
I have been deeply affected by the concern of Jewish people in particular that my comments downplayed the horror and magnitude of the holocaust. I wish to say to those Londoners that my words were not intended to cause such offence and that my view remains that the holocaust against the Jews is the greatest racial crime of the 20th century.
Something that has been disgraceful over these past two weeks has been the way in which the Daily Mail group have worked hand in glove with the chair of the London Assembly and his Conservative colleagues. Betraying his wider political agenda Brian Coleman has in his many appearances tried to widen this issue to include my views about the policies of the Israeli government.
Given Assembly member Coleman's own record of disparaging Irish travellers, Somalis, foreign students and participants at the
Notting Hill Carnival his new found interest in the sensitivities of London's minorities is impossible to believe.
Now this issue has been referred to the Standards Board for England. Most Londoners will be surprised to discover that the person they chose to elect by a substantial majority last summer can be removed from office and banned from public life for five years for breaching the subsection of The Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (England) Order 2001 which says that councillors "must treat others with respect".
It has always been my view that respect has to be earned.
To quote Andrew Alexander writing in the Daily Mail last week "Freedom of speech, if it means what it says, involves the right to irritate, annoy, dismay and shock anyone who listens. The only sensible limitations should be on speech which leads to violence, affray or disorder."
This code is a threat to freedom of speech.
Clearly Londoners share my view. I have lost count of the number of times I have been approached by Londoners over the last two weeks and have been urged very forcefully not to apologise. Since this row erupted we have received over 1500 letters and emails from the public. 74 per cent have expressed their support for me, with 26 per cent against—a margin of support of three to one.
Not for the first time in my years in public life the views of ordinary people on the street are overwhelmingly at odds with much
of the media.
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