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Labour voices begin to distance themselves from Ken Livingstone after Mladic smear - but what will Miliband and Co. have to say about it?

By Jonathan Isaby
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Ken Livingstone On yesterday's newslinks I included the story about how Ken Livingstone had likened Edward Lister, the former Wandsworth Council leader and now chief of staff to Boris Johson, to Ratko Mladic.

Livingstone, who will of course be challenging Boris for the London mayoralty again next May, was first reported by Guardian blogger Dave Hill earlier this week as describing Lister as "the Ratko Mladic of local government".

The comment by Livingstone, which surely rates at least similarly in offensiveness to likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard, is all the more stark, after seeing the pictures of Mladic at the court in The Hague this morning being charged with eleven counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Today, Lister has described Livingstone's comment as “pathetic and offensive” and has not ruled out legal action.

Livingstone himself remains unapologetic, with a spokesman laughing off the episode, saying that "Ken's phrasing is always colourful".

But the indefatigable Andrew Gilligan at the Telegraph has been challenging Labour figures to give their reaction.

Among the responses he has collated are:
  • "Ken does not speak for me when he resorts to personal abuse. I detest that sort of campaigning, and I suspect Putney does too. The attack is tasteless and absurd, even by Ken’s standards.” - Christian Klapp, Labour’s candidate in the forthcoming Putney by-election for Lister’s former council seat
  • “Ken isn’t doing a great job at building his case.” - Mike Harris, Lewisham councillor
  • “This is exactly the sort of thing I feared. The Tories are supposed to be the nasty party. But with Ken, the nasty party is us.” - Anonymous Labour MP

But I wonder what Sadiq Khan, a Wandsworth MP and Shadow Justice Secretary has to say about this. Will he back Livingstone or not?

And what about Ed Miliband himself? He turned a blind eye when his London mayoral candidate broke Labour rules to back an independent candidate in the mayoral race in Tower Hamlets last year. Will he continue to let Livingstone get away with this offensive behaviour?

I hope that next time Miliband or Khan is interviewed on TV that they are challenged about this - not least because you can bet that if a leading Conservative figure had said something as outrageous that the media would be on their case with a vengeance.