This conference was about the massive redevelopment in east London's Stratford that's part of the 2012 Olympics project.
Ken doesn't like what's happening with the property developers involved. He chose to refer to two uninvolved Jewish property developers, Irving Sellar and Gerald Ronson who he apparently sees as having "a commitment to the city, they have a pride in creating great building[s], they're proud they are creating jobs, they actually, they share [a] sense of being Londoners"
But then he trashes rival property developers, the Reuben brothers, who are Bombay born Iraqi Jews, and who he represents as just being out to squeeze as much money as they can out of the project.
So maybe he wants to express his moral disapproval of property developers who are just out to make money rather than architectural statements. That's a point of view. But what's so extraordinary is that he chooses to say this about the Reuben brothers:
I deal with many property developers, Irving Sellar, Gerald Ronson… They're there to make a profit, they also have a commitment to the city, they have a pride in creating great building, they're proud they are creating jobs, they actually, they share sense of being Londoners, I see no evidence of that from the Reuben Brothers. They just simply[see] how much they squeeze out of every single deal.
On the Reuben Brothers, I think they've responded to what you said about them in the south of France is that you've never met them, never talked to them. Have you made any representations to them? Have you asked them to come and see you? Have you asked to see them? What evidence do you have that they're not really committed?
Well just the evidence from people in the … meetings where they've been screaming and throwing their weight around and just also the evidence of their role in the collapse of Paddington hospital deal. No I haven't met them, and that's one of the things that is surprising. I mean most of the major property developers who've had an interest in this city come along to my office, get involved, make sure their plans are acceptable to my planning officers, make a reasonable contribution.
We've never had any approach from the Reuben brothers, perhaps they're not happy, perhaps they could always go back to Iran and see if they do better under the Ayatollahs.
Yes, really. Red Ken, the Mayor of London, who prides himself on his welcoming attitudes to asylum seekers and migrants, appears to do the standard racist thing of telling "foreigners" he doesn't like to "go back where they came from".
Of course, the Reuben brothers never came from Iran, and don't ever appear to have traded there. But it's clear enough what the Ayatollahs do to Jews they don't like. Or maybe he thinks the Reuben brothers just "look Iranian".
It also happens to be the case that the Reuben brothers came to London as schoolboys in the fifties, with their parents. David Reuben still lives in London. His brother Simon lives in Monaco, but has a house in Knightsbridge, and his daughter lives and works in London. Is the penalty for falling foul of Ken to be told to go off "back" to Iran after 50 years in London? How long do you have to live here to "share a sense of being a Londoner"?
I also seem to remember that Gerald Ronson acknowledged he had made a contribution to Ken Livingstone's campaign funds for his last mayoral election campaign. No doubt that did not in any way influence Ken's glowing citation of him as a model property developer who "shares a sense of being a Londoner." I've no idea whether Sellar or the Reuben brothers also contributed. Or what exactly Ken means when he talks about property developers coming along to his office and getting involved and making a reasonable contribution. But in these days of agitation about transparency of political funding, perhaps Ken's office will let us know.
It seems that Ken started getting agitated about this development, and the Reuben brothers' role in it, back in October last year.
Not for the first time, the Reubens found themselves in the right place at the right time. In a joint deal with Multiplex, the Australian construction giant currently working on Wembley Stadium, the brothers have a 50 per cent stake in the £4.5 billion Stratford City project, where many of the 17,000 athletes will be billeted during the Olympics.
The site amounts to 180 acres around Stratford International railway station, which is on the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link. In addition to housing, the project will include more than two million square feet of shops and leisure facilities and a further five million square feet of offices.
Never mind the Games themselves, the area is likely to play host to a spectacular property bonanza once the athletes have packed their bags.
Already, house prices in the Olympic areas of East and South East London have risen by between three and four per cent, compared with a 1.8 per cent fall in West London, and Stratford City is expected to create as many as 30,000 jobs.
Hotels, a health and primary care centre, a library, school nurseries, youth clubs and an employment bureau also form part of the plan.
The Reubens have two choices.
They either stick with Stratford City long-term or they cash in well before 2012. But it's this uncertainty amid rumours of tension between the joint investors that is beginning to irritate Ken Livingstone. The other 50 per cent stake is controlled by Westfield, the Australian shopping centre specialists, and by Stanhope, a private property company chaired by Sir Stuart Lipton.
Two weeks ago, Livingstone met with the chairman of Westfield, Frank Lowy, to voice his fears about the power struggles among the various consortiums.
A spokesman for the Mayor's office declined to comment, but a source at London & Continental Railways (LCR), which owns the Stratford City site, confirmed that the meeting had taken place and that Livingstone had registered his fears.
There is no love lost between Multiplex and the Reuben brothers, with their respective advisers and public relations executives openly briefing against each other. Tensions have been exacerbated by suggestions that one or both parties are considering trading in their chips already although this is denied by the companies themselves. In July, it was reported that a consortium of Saudi Arabian billionaire businessmen was lining up a bid put together by an offshore company called Saifnoor.
'All we can say at this point is that it's very early days in the project,' said a spokesman for Multiplex. 'It's a fluid situation, with a lot of people circling around. It could be a sound business decision to sell at that stage and realise a profit rather than waiting for up to 15 years for a financial-return.'
By last week, and before the press conference, it was already clear that Ken Livingstone was playing what sounds like a divisive and inflammatory role in the jostling between rival property companies, one of which he's sided with.
The row was inflamed last week by Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, when he said he “wasn’t sure” how serious the billionaire property tycoons — who speak for 50% of the scheme — were about staying with the project.
He then praised Westfield, the Australian shopping centre giant, which has a 25% stake in the consortium called Stratford City Developments. However, the brothers have been supported by London & Continental Railways, which owns the land and has a development agreement with the three companies. Stephen Jordan, managing director of LCR’s Stations & Property division, said: “The Reuben brothers have been, and remain, stable and committed shareholders within LCR’s development partner. Why the Reubens should be singled out in this way is a mystery.”
The investment bank NM Rothschild has been attempting to mediate between the different site owners, but it has proved difficult. Now it has been approached to hold a “shoot out”. This would force the trio, who all have a pre-emption agreement to buy each other’s stakes, to sell to the highest bidder. One property entrepreneur with close knowledge of the argument compared the process to a divorce.
The brothers have been enraged by Livingstone’s comments and they are now prepared to buy out the interests of Westfield, which owns a 25% stake, and Stanhope, a private-property company headed by Sir Stuart Lipton, who owns the remaining 25%.
So it seems that Ken's comments today are his latest contribution to helping the different property tycoons get their act together. Wonderful.
We haven't had the official transcript of what Ken actually said yet, but so far there is clear evidence that he did offer some sort of insult to the Reuben brothers which refers to their ethnic origins, contrasts them with British-born individuals who "share a sense of being a Londoner", and suggests they "go back" to Iran, where they don't come from, and try their luck with the Ayatollahs who are of course renowned for their welcoming of Jews.
Now let's look at the issue of whether the Reuben brothers are just out to make a quick buck. Maybe they are, in the context of property deals. There's nothing immoral about that.
But this is what they've given to the UK, including London:
They are currently ranked ninth in The Sunday Times Rich List, with an estimated fortune of £2.5 billion. The brothers are also co-trustees of The Reuben Foundation, a charitable trust they set up with an initial endowment of $100 million, aimed mainly at supporting healthcare and education.
They have been big supporters of both The Prince's Trust and the Royal Marsden Hospital, in addition to a number of Jewish charities.
No commitment to the city there, then.
They've also just announced their involvement as funders of this UK award:
The Sunday Telegraph Spirit of the Community Awards will honour young people between the ages of 10 and 18 and reward the best of them for their outstanding achievements in community service. The awards, the first of their kind to be devoted solely to young volunteers in Britain, are being sponsored by the Reuben Foundation and are supported by a variety of groups, including the Scouts, Girlguiding UK, The Prince’s Trust, the Association of School and College Leaders, and Worldwide Volunteering for Young People
They have also been warmly welcomed by a wide cross-section of British society, including Tony Blair and David Cameron, whose comments we also publish. I hope that the awards will help to nurture the numbers of young people becoming involved in voluntary work and instil in them an ethos of consideration for others that will last throughout their lives, helping them to become successful people with consciences.
In what appears sometimes to be an increasingly selfish world, we hope our Spirit of the Community awards will become a beacon for selflessness. To quote Mr Cameron: “There is such a thing as society but it is not the same as the state.”
The judges, who will include the Chief Scout, the Chief Guide, and the chief executive of The Prince’s Trust, will be looking at the type of work undertaken, what inspired it, the sacrifices involved, and what practical benefit or impact it has had......
The awards are being sponsored by the Reuben Foundation, a $100 million UK-registered charity created to channel the charitable giving of David and Simon Reuben.
The foundation funds a wide range of charitable causes, particularly in education or healthcare.
David Reuben, the co-founder of the Reuben Foundation, said: “My brother Simon and I are delighted to be sponsoring the Sunday Telegraph’s Spirit of the Community awards. Volunteering plays a vital role in the community and young people can learn an enormous amount from helping those in need.”
Yes, they really do sound like they're just out to make a quick buck, don't they? The sort we should be telling to go back to where they didn't come from.
UPDATE: It's reported here in Ken's very favourite newspaper, the Evening Standard. And yes, I think it must be accurate, because this is the po-faced comment they report from Ken's own office:
A spokesman for Mr Livingstone's office said they were aware of the story in the Evening Standard and aware of the comments by the Conservatives.
UPDATE UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post reports it here. With comments from Jon Benjamin, the chief exec of the Board of Deputies, who finds it appalling. And the Commission for Racial Equality who murmur that it's not within their remit (eh?). Oh, and this report seems to confirm that Ken made the remark that the Reuben brothers could go back to Iran and the Ayatollahs twice. The first time, off the cuff. The second when reporters asked him to clarify his remarks. Are you listening, Standards Board?
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: The BBC News website features it here. Including another tightlipped "Nothing more to say" from Ken's office. And a lengthy denial from the Reuben brothers that they are contemplating cashing in and running with the money, or have played any part in the collapse of other property deals Ken accused them of being responsible for.
FINAL UPDATE: I've re-edited the post to incorporate the shorthand transcript made by a journalist who was at the conference and subsequently compared with a webcast of it. HAT TIP: AC