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24 September 2014

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You are in: London > News > London Elections 2008 > Features > Unravelling the Lee Jasper affair

Lee Jasper

Lee Jasper

Unravelling the Lee Jasper affair

The resignation of Lee Jasper has been one of the most damaging episodes in Ken Livingstone's career – and the timing could not have been worse. Our political editor Tim Donovan assesses the fall-out and predicts what happens next.

It all started with emails, and it was emails which struck the final blow. A very modern demise, political death by Blackberry.

Over three months the character and mode of operation of the mayor's chief race adviser have been laid bare by what passed to and from his handheld.

In the end, it crossed over from the professional to the deeply personal – with the publication of intimate messages from Jasper to the woman who heads the mayor's London Equalities Commission.

But the more substantial punches had been landed long before.

A hasty exit strategy

It's clear that the emergence of a series of affectionate messages from Jasper to Karen Chouhan – trustee of the 1990 Trust which at the time was receiving a grant of £100,000 from the mayor's office - did present Jasper and the mayor himself - with the opportunity for a smart and hasty exit strategy after weeks of damage to the mayor's re-election chances.

Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone

Jasper resigned immediately for the sake, so he stressed, of his family, thereby avoiding an appearance the next day before the London Assembly.

Despite the limited effectiveness of the GLA scrutiny body it's hard to see how a two-hour eye-ball with the mayor's beleaguered race adviser would not have produced more damaging revelations, at least questions.

The email trail

The mayor says someone hacked into Lee Jasper's City Hall email account, and it's understood the police have been notified and have found evidence of this – a potentially criminal line of enquiry.

The origin of the emails does, of course, raise doubts about the validity of the mayor's claims that there has been a racist and politically-motivated campaign against him and his race adviser. At least at the outset.  More obviously, the motivation does appear to be more that of a whistle-blower, eager to have a light shone on the chief race adviser's conduct.

The fact remains that the leaking of this material has raised serious questions about a public official who did maintain extremely close links with a small number of black community groups run mainly by long-established friends, or people with whom he had in the past – and in some cases still has – business links.

Patterns of behaviour

What may be particularly eloquent is that Jasper has not been shown to have demonstrated anything like the same level of interest or intervention in other groups in the same sector or similar sectors in the capital.

It should be said, too, that much of the leaked material covers the same limited period of several weeks starting just before the summer of 2006. Some believe that it displays a pattern which, if occurring consistently during the eight years Jasper has been in post, would raise yet more issues.

BBC London's Tim Donovan

BBC London's Tim Donovan

They don't though expect any systematic enquiry to establish this.

But there's no doubt what the emails show a case to answer.

One moment here is Lee Jasper suggesting to senior officials at  the 1990 Trust that they dismiss their chief executive – 'Sack da B***h', he writes. The next he's being updated on the campaign attacking Trevor Phillips record , ahead of his likely appointment as head of the government's new equalities body.

One moment, one email shows a dispute over unpaid rent and the lease on a south London office. The next there's one asking for an update on a computer project run by a former business associate.

Then there's his foreign travel.


In June 2006 he went on a curious excursion –for which no full explanation has been given. He flew to Chicago, then on to Jamaica and from there to New York, before flying back to Jamaica.

Entirely who paid for what is not yet established. But he didn't declare – as required – on City Hall's register of interests the free flights and hotels he received from a firm of US 'diversity' consultants.

However, being far from home didn't mean he neglected London business.

Brixton Base

It was from Jamaica that he sent one of the most damaging emails, demanding a senior official from the London Development Agency halt eviction proceedings against Brixton Base, a project of which he is the patron and which is now at the centre of the  police enquiry.

What prompted the urgent missive at this particular time is not clear, though it appears to have stemmed from conversations with Eroll Walters, director of Brixton Base.

Mr Walters, who describes himself as an accountant, has emerged as one of the central figures in the controversy. He was also at the time – and remains to this day – the 'interim' director of the Black Londoners Forum, a group receiving grants not just from the mayor's office but from the Association of London Government.

Both BLF and Brixton Base now find themselves without a home, having been forced to vacate their south London premises owned by the London Development Agency.

An independent lawyer

The mayor has – belatedly – said he'll appoint an independent lawyer to look at the non-criminal issues raised about Lee Jasper's role.

In the end, given the mayor has expressed confidence that  Jasper will be cleared of any criminal allegations, it is this 'internal' review which will determine whether Jasper can be re-appointed –as the mayor says he intends.

The mayor has been asked to guarantee the lawyer reports back before the May 1 election, so that voters can have the full picture before they make a judgement on the mayor's handling of the crisis. It would seem unlikely.

"The wider question now is how much damage the row has done to Ken Livingstone's bid to win a third term"

Tim Donovan

Electoral consequences

The wider question now is how much damage the row has done to Ken Livingstone's bid to win a third term. Labour sources insist internal polling has not shown that this has been playing particularly badly 'on the doorstep.'

But the book-makers William Hill at the beginning of March put Boris Johnson narrowly ahead for the first time.

Before the Jasper controversy developed, the mayor had anticipated a campaign, standing proudly on a record of investment in transport and policing, contrasting his experience with that of a journalist who has 'never run anything.'

The failure to deal with this rumbling row with the appearance of authority and detached independence – even if necessary jettisoning one of his key aides – has been a gift beyond Boris Johnson’s wildest dreams.

last updated: 20/05/2008 at 14:52
created: 11/03/2008

Have Your Say

Barry Levene.
Ken is an arrogant, hubristic megolamaniac. The role of mayor is completely superfluous. Central Govt in partnership with the London boroughs can and should run London. The capital does not need a mayor with such extraordinary powers and budget. The GLA and its ''delivery'' agency the LDA are a complete and utter waste of public money. Ken and his cronies are taking Londoners for a ride, and if he is voted back in then Londoners will get what they deserve - four more years of waste, inefficiency led by self serving officials who don't care two hoots about the everyday lives of ordinary Londoners.

Maxine how is it "racist" to uncover and investigate criminal activity? - or is is OK for Lee Jasper to hand taxpayer cash to his buddies without any benefit to the wider community? get a life, the real racism here is the contempt Lee and his buddies display for ordinary Londoners who don't have the right conections to ZaNu labour.

I have often thought the BBC falls over backwards in their attempts to be fair on anything to do with race.Seeing the post from Maxine it is clear that even when massive fraud is uncovered if the people involved are black they will alway's play the race card.They don't understand they are not special far from it they are just people like anyone else.If it involved a white person how much notice would be taken if they claimed it was racist to make their misconduct public.Playing the race card is very dangerous it can easily backfire and make you look paranoid.

Maxine Renton
Iim Donavan attempt to justify his coverage of this issue as ' justifiable' is a travesty patrading as journalistic balance. The fact is the BBC has engaged on a deeply racist campaign along with the Evening Standard to oust one of the most London formost black leaders. The coverage of the BBC has been completely disproportionate. The fact is the institutional racist bias of Donavan and the BBC London team has been clear for all to see. What amounts to a few badly worded emails and a couple minor lapses in admin have been used as a basis for what has been a mordern day ' witchunt'. The BBC should investigate this and determine if according to thier own standards the coverage of this issue has been fair. Given the facts of the story and when one compares the coverage given to this in contrast to other stories concerning MP's failure to declare huge sums of money, employing family members and other such matters will no doubt expose the racist bias of the BBC.

Keith Collins
Never even heard of him and its begs the question why an earth are we being force to pay £60 000 a year for a guy with some obscure role within the London Assembly loaded with self vested business links and so on. It make me wonder how many other people are playing the game of "in it for the money" campaign in and around London. Maybe Ken is so gullible, perhaps he might like to set up a "White Minority Support Group", highlight White issue and use the old race card if it dosen't suit my agenda. Who do I write too for this job? Ken?

George Ward
This case just shows the arrogance of Ken Livingstone. In his opinion he is never wrong and nobody will ever change his mind even if he appears to do so.

jonnie of brixton
ethnic advisor wanted,but not by Londoners... with regard to Romeo lee jasper,-his e mails printed in the standard are so childish-currently suspended and he even lost his pa.. -spends a lot of time at my gym lately-..can ken liarstone explain what he does for his £120 grand a year?.ethnic what?..its 2008,we are Londoners first and that should be the priority,ethnic so called issues are hijacked and used by the current mayor to be divisive,enter Romeo jasper and his rants circa 1970,the titanic gla with capt ken liarstone and petty officer jasper are trying to get off the sinking ship before women and children,they were last seen in a lifeboat paddling to Cuba and asking for political asylum... ethnic jonnie of brixton,willing to do the ethnic job for £60 grand a year,plus expenses.

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