Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor who was suspended from the Labor Party for comments about Hitler’s support for Zionism, said he would apply to join the Green Party.
Describing himself as ‘both green and red’, he told the Guardian: ‘I sincerely believe that we are heading towards extinction before the end of the century because no government is doing enough to fight impact of climate change.
“At COP26 they all said the right things but…you have to get people to completely change the way we live and no government in the world seems to have the guts to do that.”
During his tenure, the 76-year-old, formerly known as “Red Ken”, pioneered environmental measures such as congestion charging. He also founded the C40 group of mayors for reducing emissions, which was supported by figures such as Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Christiana Figueres, then UN climate chief.
But Livingstone was a polarizing and controversial figure, quitting the Labor Party after he was suspended in May 2016 for telling a reporter that when Hitler was first elected “he supported Zionism before he went crazy and ended up kill 6 million Jews”.
Livingstone said he was referring to the controversial 1933 Haavara Agreement between Nazi Germany and certain Zionist groups. The Haavara Agreement undermined an attempted Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany, but allowed approximately 60,000 Jews to migrate to Palestine, if they used their assets to buy exported German goods.
To critics, however, his words trivialized the genocide, confused his agency – which belongs solely to Hitler – unfairly linked Zionism and Nazism, and even offered Hitler a defense of “mitigated responsibility”.
Zack Polanski, a Green Party assemblyman in London, said: “The rules are very clear that there is no room in the party for anti-Semitism, transphobia, racism, sexism or any other form of discrimination and while it is not appropriate to comment on any individual application, I expect any new member, whoever they may be, to follow our code of conduct.
Applications for membership from high-level political defectors must first be submitted to a regional green council for an internal consultation process.
When asked if they would accept Livingstone as a member, a party spokesman said, “We invite anyone who shares our political goals and values to join the Green Party.”
Livingstone still denies having misspoken about Zionism, but added that “if I had known that everything was going to be twisted like that, of course I would have made a much longer and boring analysis of history”.
He first sent antennae to the Greens in discussions with several senior members who covered “how much I wanted to join and what I would do”, he said, “but they never got back to me”. His first suspicion was that they “thought if they brought me they would be accused of being anti-Semitic,” he said.
His message to the party now, however, was simple: “Let me in!” he said. “I’ve never met anyone in the Green Party that I didn’t like. I will apply to join them [the Greens].”
Issues such as air pollution controls, bike lanes and green job guarantees for Rust Belt workers were ripe for campaign work, he said. “I would like to see a Green-Labour coalition running the country,” he said. But he advised Socialists to stay in Labor to help build such an alliance, which has precedents.
In 2008, the Greens called on their supporters to transfer their second votes to Livingstone in the mayoral vote ultimately won by Boris Johnson. Green pair Jenny Jones, Livingstone’s former assistant, was more effusive. Ken was “incredibly green”, she said and “understood the climate emergency”.
She added that she had not seen any evidence of anti-Semitism on his part in eight years of collaboration. “As far as I’m concerned, I would welcome him,” she said. “He was a superb mayor and he was followed by Boris Johnson, who has no understanding of the environment and is obsessed with economic growth.”
While saying Keir Starmer “will be the best Prime Minister since Clement Attlee”, Livingstone did not rule out running for mayor as a Green candidate.
“I’ll be 78 or 79 when the next mayoral election comes around and I don’t think people will be rushing to vote for someone that old,” he said. “But I would love to do it.”