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The independent London newspaper

Careless talk costs livelihoods

31 May, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Ken Livingstone

I DIDN’T take much notice as I saw a group of agitated people holding forth at a recent demonstration in Parliament Square over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

After that, Ken Livingstone, housing chief in Camden in the 1970s, resigned from the party, before he was pushed, branded as an anti-Semite.

Now, a kind of McCarthy-style witch-hunt is gathering pace because a local government official – a housing inspector – has been sacked for being an “anti-Zionist”. And his “offensive” remarks were made at the Parliament Square protest.

The official, Stan Keable, who worked for Camden council in the 80s as an engineer, was accused by his employer, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, of bringing the authority into disrepute.

It’s one thing to be expelled from a political party – essen­tially, all you lose is your party membership card – but it’s quite another form of punishment to be sacked from your job. Bang goes your livelihood! And that will mean a lot if you are an elderly man, 72 years old, as Stan Keable is.

I gather Stan has continued working into his seventies to add to his pension pot, impoverished by lower contributions earlier in his life.

The coup-de-grace was delivered, unintentionally, by a BBC reporter who filmed Stan at the public meeting. The local Conservative MP, Greg Hands, referred the footage to the council’s Labour leader, and days later Stan was formally charged with “serious misconduct”. Under employment rules this can lead to an immediate dismissal. After a hearing conducted by a senior official he was given his cards.

Stan intends to appeal or pursue his case through an employment tribunal.

Freedom of speech, the right to express your views publicly as a civil servant, is a touchy subject.

Officials often fall foul of it. But this depends on the opinion in question – if a civil servant spouts “hate” speech replete with racist ideas, he/she should expect the worst, but do critical views on Zionism fall into the same category?

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