I've always been intrigued by the Heimlich manoeuvre, an arcane piece of first aid derring-do which helps you get a bone out of the throat of anyone unfortunate enough to have swallowed one.
But all this has paled by comparison with the spectacle of the Pretzel manoeuvre for Livingstone. I refer to the amazing intellectual contortions and posturings that I've been seeing from some prominent London Labour loyalists in the cause of trying to persuade sceptical Londoners to vote for Ken Livingstone.
The track record of Livingstone as a serial sayer of appalling things and a doer of somewhat murky ones has been regularly documented in Aloyada. Here is a sample of his track record in telling some Jewish propertry developers to ...go back where they came from, whilst at the same time praising other Jewish property developers who had contributed to his campaign funds for his previous election campaign. And here, he tries to explain away some of his more notorious political support acts, such as his support of the influential Islamist Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, advocate of wife beating, execution of gays and indiscriminate suicide bombing of Israelis.
The supreme prize for turning yourself into a pretzel to come up with reasons why you, dear Londoner reader, should vote for Livingstone has to go to Jonathan Freedland, writing in last Friday's Jewish Chronicle. His article is titled "Why Livingstone gets my vote", but it's much less about that than putting pressure on Jewish Chronicle readers to join him in voting for Ken despite his established track record of insulting individual Jews as Jews, of characterizing the Board of Deputies, the representative body of British Jews, as being controlled by the intelligence service of Israel, and of expressing sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers.
Jonathan Freedland's argument follows one of the main lines of the standard Pretzel manoeuvre currently being used by Livingstone and his supporters to try to get voters to overlook his more off the wall actions and statements. This particular variant is based on suggesting that these are minor matters which should be overlooked in favour of a supposed big picture of success in what are seen as the key issues.
Freedland's argument is breathtaking: Jews should ignore Livingstone's gratuitous offensiveness towards mainstream Jews and his characterization of the Board of Deputies as a sinister organization controlled by the Israeli intelligence services because he's standing as Mayor of London, not as Chair of the Board of Deputies or President of the Zionist Federation:
I wouldn’t vote for Ken Livingstone to be the next head of the United Synagogue. If he was running for the chairmanship of the Jewish National Fund, he wouldn’t have my backing. And if he wanted to lead the Zionist Federation, he could count me out.
We all know why Livingstone has disqualified himself from those posts. He’s the man who hugged Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim cleric who justifies attacks on Israeli civilians; who told the Reuben brothers to go back where they came from; who heard a Jewish reporter say he was offended to be compared to a concentration camp guard and didn’t care; and who, most recently, wrongly claimed that former Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits had declared the creation of the state of Israel a mistake.
So Ken can rule himself out as a future president of the Board of Deputies. Luckily for him — and us — that’s not the job he’s seeking. He wants instead to carry on serving as the mayor of London. And the basis on which Jewish Londoners make that decision should be entirely different.
For if we are full participants in the life of this city — and I believe we are — then we should elect a mayor not because of how he appeals, or doesn’t appeal, to our own particular, sectional interests, but what he does for London as a whole.
We would take a dim view of an American Jewish voter who chose between Obama, Clinton and McCain solely on the basis of how closely each candidate cuddled up to Israel rather than on what they would do for America.
What Freedland is saying here is that concerns about Livingstone's demonization of the biggest mainstream Jewish representative organization and Livingstone's endorsement and active support of an anti-semitic Islamist religious politician are only relevant to a leadership position within the Jewish community; they are irrelevant to a wider community role, even one which is supposed to be representative of the whole community.
Freedland isn't the first Jewish polemicist to suggest that caring about Jewish concerns in a wider community context is an indicator of an inappropriately parochial concern, and that the genuinely community-minded Jew should be disregarding those in favour of a supposedly wider agenda. He's gone much further-- to state that the most offensive of Livingstone's gratuitous Jew-baiting does no more than render him unsuitable for the leadership of either a Jewish religious or a zionist activist organization.
By suggesting "we" (who's this "we"?) would take a "dim view" of any American Jew who chose to vote for a US presidential candidate "solely on the basis of how closely each candidate cuddled up to Israel", Freedland manages subtly both to sneer at American Jews, and to suggest that London Jews' concern is about "cuddling up to Israel" rather than the gross accusations that Livingstone has made that the Board of Deputies is the tool of the Israeli government, and that the anti-semitic, misogynist and homophobic statements attributed to Sheikh Qaradawi are deliberate mistranslations by an organization controlled by Israeli intelligence.
Freedland twists himself even further into a Pretzel manoeuvre by going on to suggest that while London Jews shouldn't vote against Livingstone despite the whole farrago of his years of demonization of zionism and Israel, they should decide to vote against Livingstone's main rival Boris Johnson because Freedland alleges that he characterized once Islam as "viciously sectarian" and "mediaeval" in an article written after 9/11. Apart from the display of highly selective indignation that this represents, it's another example of traditional secular left attitudes to Jews, who are to be rebuked for any signs of concern with their own liberation, and enlisted as demonstration fodder in the service of others' grievances.
Apart from these so far thankfully unique variants of Pretzel manoeuvres for Livingstone, Freedland trots out most of the others which feature in almost every example of the genre:
You shouldn't vote for Boris Johnson because he went to Eton
You shouldn't vote for Boris Johnson because he's never been responsible for the administration of any major national enterprise before (but why is it that they don't also campaign against Vaclav Havel, the poet who became the President of the Czech Republic?)
You shouldn't vote for Boris Johnson because he's a buffoon (strange how the buffoon managed to get a scholarship to Eton, become President of the Oxford Union, make quite a positive impact on the Spectator, write a series of books and make a creditable television series on the history of Ancient Rome)
You shouldn't vote for Boris Johnson because the BNP is backing him. He doesn't mention that Boris Johnson very promptly and vigorously repudiated all BNP support. Still less does he mention that, by contrast, Ken Livingstone has done nothing to repudiate a letter of support from a group of Muslim organizations which includes some highly reactionary Madudist Islamists.
Pretzels are pretty much my favourite party snack. But as a template for effective political campaigning, they're at best ludicrous and at worst deeply repellent.
For another, if more harmless example of Pretzel manoeuvring for Livingstone, see Monday's article by Charlie Brooker in (where else?) The Guardian. Semi-literate, ranting, wholly self-important (another key feature of the genre), what is there to say when faced with arguments like this?
Now, even if the Standard photographs Ken carving a swastika into a dormouse's back, I'll vote for him for the following reasons:
1) I'm genetically predisposed to hate the Tories. It's my default, hard-wired position. If Boris wins, their simpering pudge-faced smuggery is going to be unbearable. Picture the expression Piers Morgan makes when he's especially pleased with himself, then multiply it by 10 million, and imagine it looming overhead like a Death Star. That's what it's going be like. Therefore I don't care who wins provided Johnson loses, and loses hard, preferably in close-up, on the telly.
2) Ken's other main rival is solid-but-dull Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick. He probably deserves a shot, but as he's not going to win, voting for him would be a waste of a perfectly good X, which might otherwise be used to pinpoint buried treasure, indicate affection, or mark a plague victim's door.
3) I wouldn't trust Boris to operate a mop, let alone a £10bn Crossrail project.
4) On a related note, I don't believe in my gut that Boris gives even the faintest hint of a wisp of a glimpse of a toss about London, or indeed humanity in general. Both of which are fairly important in a job like this.
5) But on the other hand OMFG LOOK AT HIS FUNNEEE HAIR LOL!!!! BORRIS IS A LEGERND!!!!
Anyway, if the worst happens and Boris gets in, then provided he doesn't obliterate the capital in some hilarious slapstick disaster, or provoke war with Portsmouth with a chance remark - provided, in short, that London still exists in some recognisable form - the rival parties should fight fire with fire by running equally popular TV characters against him in the next election.
It doesn't even matter if they're real or not. Basil Brush would be a shoo-in. Churchill, the nodding dog from the car insurance ads - he'll do. Or if we're after the ironic vote, how about Gene Hunt from Life on Mars? Or Phil Mitchell? At least he's a Londoner.
They might as well. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there's no more desperate sign of the times than the current wave of LOL OMFG!!!! BORIS DONE A GUFF!!!! ROFL!!!!!!! THE MAN IS A LEGERND I TELL YOU LOL!!!!! I CARNT WAIT 2 SEE HIM RUNNING THE INTIRE CITTY!!! BORRIS 4 KING!!! LOL!!! LOL!!! LOLLL!!!!!!!!!
Charlie Brooker is a Guardian columnist and satirical comedian. Oh,yes.........