Some silence would be welcome

One of the good causes currently being championed by Ken Livingstone is Bullywatch. "If you can spot it, you can stop it," the campaign on the mayor's official website urges, going on to highlight "the practical steps that every Londoner - young and old - can take to stop bullying". That is good advice which Londoners should heed - not least in order to apply it to the mayor himself.

The latest in a lengthening list of strange outbursts from Mr Livingstone came last Tuesday, when he used a private press briefing to lash out at a pair of property developers, David and Simon Reuben, whom he argued were obstructing plans for the 2012 Olympics. He has a case to make on this and he is right not to let the construction of the Olympic city site run out of control. But that in no way justifies the use of crass language against people with whom he needs to do business and which would shame a loudmouth pub buffoon. The exact course of what went on at the briefing is not certain, but Mr Livingstone apparently said the Reubens could "go back to Iran and try their luck with the ayatollahs, if they don't like the planning regime or my approach".

This is both stupid and unpleasant on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin, expect to say that the Reubens were born in India, not Iran, of Iraqi parents, and are anyway in law just as entitled to be in London as Mr Livingstone. Whether he would think it acceptable to say the same of a black or Muslim citizen opposed to his plans is unknown - but the fact that the Reubens are Jewish and Mr Livingstone's last outburst was to attack a Jewish reporter, only serves to give credence to those who claim he is anti-semitic. Neither did he help himself when, rather than saying sorry, he issued a cocky "apology" to the people of Iran for suggesting they may be linked to the pair. He spoke with a swaggering disregard for both democratic differences of opinion and the diversity of the capital which he claims to champion so much.

In truth Mr Livingstone's aggressive and intolerant streak now roams widely in search of any opponent he thinks weak and unpopular enough to pick on. His shoot-from-the-hip frankness and refusal to be humbled was one of the reason Londoners chose him to be mayor in the first place, but as time passes this engaging honesty seems to be giving way to a cruder boorishness. It is beginning to do him serious harm. Mr Livingstone does not need to become dull. But he should learn that sometimes the best thing he could do is shut up.

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