"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
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 racist.
Is it the case that whilst not racist or anti-Semitic my words were so
offensive they should never have been uttered?
Clearly the leading Jewish newspaper the Jewish Chronicle does not think so.
On 7 February 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
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 20 the 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
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. Seventy-four 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. "