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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Ken's confident showing
Ken Livingstone at Wednesday's question session
Livingstone was fiercely critical of his media opponents

The bright light trained towards Ken Livingstone may have been for the camera crews, but its dazzling glare made this questioning look like the archetypal interrogation session.

If London's mayor had his way, he claims, he would be linked up to the wires in a polygraph test to show he is not the liar in the row over his alleged misbehaviour at a late night party.


His stance was clear: if you are looking for people propagating "outright lies", you've got the wrong man

It was not some rival gang chief, however, that Mr Livingstone was taking on as he opened a new wave in his war with the capital's only major newspaper.

Looking confident and drawing laughter from London Assembly members trying to find out whether he told them the truth last week, the mayor swiftly moved to switch the spotlight onto the new editor of the Evening Standard.

Opening a new front

His stance was clear: if you looking for people propagating "outright lies", you've got the wrong man.

If anyone ought to lose their job in this row, he seemed to argue, it was Standard editor Veronica Wadley, whom he accused of devoting more coverage to this alleged "fracas" than to anything bar 11 September.

It was a session interrupted only by the sound of two hecklers being escorted away and the scribbling of a media pack.

The mayor has not spent years in politics for nothing and he knows the best way to undermine his critics with careful digs at their reputation.

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips chaired the questioning
Ms Wadley's predecessor, Max Hastings, had built up the Standard into a paper that mattered - now she was squandering that reputation in what was a "disgrace", he claimed.

What happened at the north London party - where a man fell down a stairwell - was worthy only a paragraph in the Islington Gazette headlined "Man falls at party", he said.

"The truth is editors have more power than cabinet ministers," Mr Livingstone continued.

"They have the power to besmirch a reputation and end a career."

'No Roman orgy'

That power was being abused, said Mr Livingstone, but the newspaper's reports, which it continues to stand by, had driven him to break his 20-year rule to stay silent about his private life.

He moved to scotch this idea that he was engaged in some kind of "Roman orgy", with drugs and drunkenness in an Islington suburb.


There will be no ceasefire in this war - and Mr Livingstone can expect a fresh offensive from his newspaper tormentors

Instead, he had drunk three glasses of a rather good sauvignon blanc and spent a few hours asleep as he often gets tired at parties - hardly something to boost a party animal image.

Yes, he did row with his girlfriend, he said, prompting a scuffle with one of her friends, who wrongly thought the dispute had "turned nasty".

But nobody was pushed over a stairwell - that was an accident which the mayor had not even seen, he went on.

Question of tactics

It was easy to detect some sympathy with this account among the panel of London Assembly members tasked with quizzing the mayor.

And from the start they acknowledged they were no "kangaroo court" - they could not investigate or judge the late night incident.

So the questioning focused instead on the mayor's tactics in his new-found media war.

The cry from some assembly members was: if the Standard was really whipping up these claims against you, why don't you either sue the paper or take it to the Press Complaints Commission?

A veteran of vilification in the media, the mayor has been there, done that before - and got no satisfaction. Such moves could in any case only prolong the row.

Changing battle lines?

Instead, he is embarking on an act of faith - Londoners liked him enough to vote for him in droves, let them be judge and jury in a trial by and of the media.

There will be no ceasefire in this war - and Mr Livingstone can expect a fresh offensive from his newspaper tormentors.

But London Assembly members have the power to switch the war lines by bringing in the Standards Board for England.

That body is a new innovation which may require a battle plan even an experienced general like Ken Livingstone has never used before.


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See also:

26 Jun 02 | UK Politics
26 Jun 02 | UK Politics
26 Jun 02 | UK Politics
25 Jun 02 | England
27 Mar 02 | England
14 Mar 02 | UK Politics
06 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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