POLITICS

Ken Livingstone's 'Psychiatric Help' Attack On Shadow Minister Kevan Jones Prompts Calls To Axe Him From Defence Review

18/11/2015 12:00 GMT | Updated 18/11/2015 18:59 GMT

Ken Livingstone has been forced to apologise to a shadow minister for suggesting that he ‘might need some psychiatric help’.

Jeremy Corbyn had urged Mr Livingstone to apologise to Shadow Defence minister Kevan Jones - who has suffered from depression - for his remarks during a bitter spat over Labour defence policy.

The ex-GLC leader initially gave string of defiant media interviews, first refusing to back down, then saying 'if he's upset, I'm sorry',

He even risked further uproar over mental health, telling ITV News: "This guy shouldn’t pick a fight with people and then start wimping around".

But Mr Livingstone finally tweeted his regret following an angry intervention from Mr Corbyn.

In one of the most bitter rows to hit the party since Mr Corbyn was elected leader, the former Mayor of London had lashed out at Mr Jones’s criticism of his appointment to co-chair a new review of defence policy.

The controversy started when Mr Livingstone was appointed to help 'convene' the review – which will take in Trident nuclear policy – along with Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle.

A stunned Mr Jones had told the PoliticsHome website “I’m not sure Ken knows anything about defence” and said his new role would “only damage our credibility amongst those that do and who care about defence”.

Mr Livingstone retaliated by telling the Daily Mirror “he’s obviously very depressed and disturbed…he should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.”

But the shadow minister, who has talked publicly about his battle with depression, said: "I find these comments gravely offensive not just personally but also to the many thousands who suffer from mental illness”.

Shadow Health Minister Luciana Berger dubbed Mr Livingstone’s remarks “unacceptable” and said his comments “should be treated as seriously as racism or sexism”.

And a string of shadow ministers, including Lisa Nandy, and former shadow ministers, such as Chuka Umunna, demanded an apology.

Ms Nandy, the Shadow Energy Secretary, told BBC's Daily Politics: "“I don’t think anybody should be making comments like that about anybody else in politics".

Shadow Commons Leader Chris Bryant added his criticism.

Labour MP Neil Coyle described the remarks as a 'slur'.

One former Shadow Cabinet Minister told Huff Post: "Despite his apology, Ken's position is untenable.

"Mental health is a hugely important issue for the armed forces and veterans. It is impossible for him to carry out a review when he has been so dismissive and used mental health as a bar-room insult."

Deputy Leader Tom Watson told HuffPost: "We had a long discussion at the NEC on Tuesday about the need to encourage members to be respect to each other in political discussion. Ken Livingstone is a very experienced member of Labour's NEC and he should lead by example. I'm sure he will want to apologise to Kevan Jones."

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said the Labour leader was "extremely angered" by Mr Livingstone's remarks. "Jeremy is incredibly concerned that people with mental health problems shouldn't be stigmatised.

“He has worked with Kevan in the past on this issue and is impressed by his bravery in speaking out on his own mental health issues. Ken should apologise to him straight away."

Shadow Foreign Minister Pat McFadden felt that Mr Livingstone's initial apology was inadequate, telling Radio 4's World At One programme: "That's not a proper apology, 'if you're upset, I'm sorry'. If you are going to apologise, do it properly, not in a half-hearted or dismissive way."

Mr Livingstone told HuffPost UK that he was unaware of Mr Jones’ mental health history, stating “I’ve never heard of him before”.

In an interview with LBC, the former Mayor also said: “He needs to say sorry to me first. He was rude about me, I was rude back..he needs to get over it"

He later told ITV News he could apologise.

The ex-Mayor last faced a similar political firestorm over his choice of language when he accused a Jewish reporter on the Evening Standard of acting like a Nazi concentration camp guard.

As he faced a fresh backlash today, Mr Livingstone told HuffPost UK that he was unaware of Mr Jones’ history of mental illness.

"Has he got a history of depression? I’ve never heard of him. I thought it was quite amazing that someone should be so abusive to someone they’ve never met. The first I knew about him was when I got a phone call from the media saying his abuse about my appointment," he said.

“If you look back, in the run up to Blair’s election, despite all our policy disagreements, I was out there supporting him. With Labour MPs now personally undermining a leader who has been elected by a landslide is completely unacceptable.

“People look back on the eight years I was Mayor of London as quite a successful administration. That’s because I’ve got an open mind and I look at facts, that’s why the congestion charge worked. And that’s what we are going to do in this policy review.”

The announcement on Tuesday of Mr Livingstone's role as 'co-chair' of the Labour defence review sparked concern among some MPs, and caught Ms Eagle by surprise. The first she knew of the appointment was when she saw it on Twitter.

Labour MPs seized on the former Mayor's remarks on the BBC's Westminster Hour linking the Paris attacks with Western foreign policy.

But Mr Livingstone did have support from those who believe he will represent rank and file party members on the issue of scrapping Trident.

Former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway tweeted his backing.

On the substantive point of Mr Livingstone's new role, a source close to Ms Eagle suggested she was still in control: "Maria and Ken are co-convening the review and Maria will still be leading it as was outlined by Jeremy at conference"

The ex-Mayor had also irked some in the Shadow Cabinet with an interview on Russia Today TV in which he said Ms Eagle was "mad" if she felt that spending money on Trident was worthwhile.

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change the mental health anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, also criticised Mr Livingstone.

“It’s as unacceptable to trade insults on the basis of someone’s mental health experiences as it would be on the basis of their race, gender or sexuality.

"Kevan has been widely praised for opening up about his experiences and helping to make big strides against stigma, particularly in parliamentary circles.

"We know that many people still feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health problems, and we would encourage everyone to consider the impact of using mental health related language that could fuel misunderstanding and stigma.”