Vote left, not Livingstone no.1!

Submitted by martin on 22 April, 2008 - 1:40 Author: Colin Foster
City Hall

No, readers of Solidarity should not vote no.1 for Ken Livingstone for mayor of London. Despite all the frantic appeals to us to vote for him as a "lesser evil" than Boris Johnson, he deserves no credit or endorsement from working-class people.

Because of the vestigial links New Labour may still have with the trade unions, we'll vote Livingstone no.2. But for our no.1 vote we'd rather be with the left-wingers and activists who will vote for the Left List (despite the terrible weakness of that list, on which more later).

The same principle holds for the other local government elections on 1 May: vote socialist if you can, especially for the 40 or so candidates of the Socialist Green Unity Coalition (in which Solidarity and Workers' Liberty participate); vote Labour as a fallback.

If in doubt about the Tory candidate for Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, read the Compass briefing at http://tinyurl.com/yrblvr. And the threat from Richard Barnbrook and the BNP is described at http://tinyurl.com/6p7rfg and http://tinyurl.com/3pmrh2.

Livingstone? He still has a sort of left-wing reputation - but only because the left has lowered its expectations so much.

He says it himself: "There's no rival to the market in terms of production and distribution... There isn't a great ideological conflict any more. The business community, for example, has been almost depoliticised..."

In other words, Livingstone has found no political friction with City bosses in the joint campaigns he has run with them for more tall office buildings, for the euro, and for the Olympics, since becoming London Mayor in 2000.

In 2004 Livingstone called on Tube workers to cross their union's picket lines. So Livingstone has an "ideological conflict" with striking workers - but not with bosses, or with the former CIA chief Bob Kiley whom Livingstone recruited on £2 million a year to be Commissioner of Transport.

No friction with the police, either. He supported the cops over their killing of Jean Charles de Menenez. When in 2001 there was a big May Day demonstration in London - for the first time in decades - Livingstone said in advance that the police should arrest and charge "without provocation" anyone with "the intention" of committing offences.

None of that old innocent until proved guilty stuff! Livingstone denounced the protesters as "violent nutters". When the (non-violent) protesters were "jailed" by the police by being cordoned in, on the streets of London, for seven hours solid, Livingstone backed the police again.

Livingstone's "ideological conflicts" put him on the side of the rich, and against the working class. And in the current state of New Labour, it can't be said that the campaign for Livingstone represents a living labour movement within which Livingstone can be challenged and replaced.

Livingstone was a left-winger in the 1970s. When first elected as leader of the Greater London Council in 1981, he promised that "wherever there is an industrial dispute in London" he would "go down and support it".

But he always said that he had no interest in reading Karl Marx or other socialist theory; he wanted a broad Labour left with "might not be ideologically perfect" but would get down to business better than "some more theoretical tendencies".

That "never mind about the theory, get something done" approach quickly mutated into getting anything done which boosted Livingstone's own profile.

Livingstone's GLC abandoned its initial ambition to lead a working-class struggle to defeat the Tories. By 1983 Livingstone was telling Socialist Organiser [a forerunner of Solidarity] that "nothing the Labour GLC does challenges the structure... they're all things that a Thatcher government could live with..."

The GLC's side-gestures in those days - anti-racist agitation, money for women's groups, support for the miners' strike - were good as far as they went. Livingstone's "left-wing" side-gestures of recent years have not even been that.

In the early 1980s Livingstone worked with the WRP, a group once important on the left which had degenerated into an operation funded by the Iraqi and Libyan governments to make "anti-Zionist" agitation. In 1985, the WRP shattered into fragments after internal conflicts in which the facts came out about the Iraqi and Libyan money. To this day, Livingstone defends the late Gerry Healy, leader of the WRP; claims that it must have been "MI5" which broke up the WRP; and also denounces his critics on the left (such as Solidarity and Workers' Liberty) as "MI5".

At City Hall, he has handed many top jobs to members of a tiny left, or ex-left, group called Socialist Action. They do nothing socialist there.

Livingstone has welcomed and boosted Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Islamist ideologue. He presents this as a gesture against Islamophobia. Actually, by hailing Qaradawi as a "moderate", Livingstone is slandering most Muslims.

Qaradawi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, prays: "O God, destroy the usurper Jews, the vile Crusaders, and infidels..." He considers homosexuality a crime. He says husbands should control their wives by violence if they disobey, for example by not wearing the hijab. He believes that ex-Muslims who stop believing should be killed. And much more on a website supervised by Qaradawi, islamonline.net. (See also www.workersliberty.org/node/4068).

So much for Livingstone. It would be good to report that the spending of £30,000 by the SWP (Socialist Workers' Party) on a "Left List" challenge has given socialists and secularists a real voice in this election.

But no. The SWP had to pay £10,000 to get Lindsey German's mayoral manifesto into the booklet circulated to all voters - but the manifesto reads like a desperate but inept attempt to be populist and catch-all at any cost. It contains only vapidities like "Stop big business putting profits before the planet" (how?).

There is no word of socialism in the manifesto, nor any of speaking up for the working class, other than a vague reference to "London's working majority against the wealthy minority". And the manifesto is as poor in specifics as it is in general ideas, with no focus on what the GLC, specifically, can do.

There could have been something better. The London Transport Regional Council of the rail union RMT voted by a large majority in favour of the RMT initiating a broad working-class socialist slate for mayor and Assembly, in alliance with other left-wing unions and socialist groups.

In the end the RMT Executive decided not to go ahead with the slate. It felt there was not enough support and momentum behind it. One factor there would have been the minority in the RMT Regional Council opposing the slate - led by the SWP, who wanted the RMT to stand down in favour of the Respect alliance the SWP then had with George Galloway, an alliance which broke up only a few months later!

Next time we should make sure there is a proper working-class slate.

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