(Bloomberg) -- Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, resigned from the U.K.’s Labour Party on Monday, saying investigations into him had become a “distraction” from leader Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to Prime Minister Theresa May.
Livingstone, a political ally of Corbyn on the left-wing of the party, had his membership suspended in 2016 after he described Adolf Hitler as a supporter of zionism. That prompted demands for him to be expelled amid a crisis over anti-Semitism in the party.
“The ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour Party have become a distraction from the key political issue of our time -- which is to replace a Tory government overseeing falling living standards and spiralling poverty, while starving our schools and the NHS of the vital resources they need,” Livingstone, 72, said in a statement posted on his website. “I do not accept the allegation that I have brought the Labour Party into disrepute -- nor that I am in any way guilty of anti-Semitism. I abhor antisemitism, I have fought it all my life and will continue to do so.”
Corbyn has come under increasing pressure to flush-out anti-Semitism from the Labour Party and there was a demonstration outside Parliament on March 26 called by Jewish leaders who accused him of acting too slowly over the issue. Livingstone’s case had become a centerpiece of allegations that the party had failed to act.
Livingstone, who was mayor from 2000 to 2008 after first winning election as an independent because he had not been chosen as the Labour candidate, said his comments about Hitler were a “historical argument,” but apologised for the offense they caused.
“The way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that,” he said in his statement. “I am loyal to the Labour party and to Jeremy Corbyn. However any further disciplinary action against me may drag on for months or even years, distracting attention from Jeremy’s policies.”
The former mayor added that he is convinced that “rapid action” will be taken to throw out anyone “who genuinely has antisemitic views.”
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