The Blairite Ken

Submitted by Anon on 9 January, 2004 - 5:15

By Colin Foster

On Tuesday 6 January, the Labour Party readmitted London mayor Ken Livingstone to membership. He had been expelled in 2000, when he ran against Labour for mayor and won, after being denied the Labour nomination despite being the majority choice of Labour Party members and trade unions in London.

Is this a triumph for the left? Or a sell-out by the previously "red" Ken? Neither.
Ken Livingstone was a left-wing local Labour councillor in the late 1970s. One of many, alongside, for example, David Blunkett and Margaret Hodge.

Elected leader of the old Greater London Council in May 1981, Livingstone abandoned the Labour GLC's plans for open battle against the then Tory government within eight months. From then until the Tories abolished the GLC in April 1986, he promoted anti-racist policies, help for the disabled, and increased money for voluntary groups and the arts, but nothing distinctively "red".

In the campaign against Thatcher's abolition of the GLC, he sought alliances with dissident Tories.

Come early 1985, 12 Labour councils had voted for a fight with the Tories over "rate-capping" (limits imposed by central government on what local property taxes they could raise). A real battle might just have saved the miners' strike, which finally collapsed on 3 March.

Livingstone, through complex manoeuvres, engineered a GLC budget which complied with the Tory legislation. Abandoned by the GLC, the other councils collapsed, though not immediately.

Livingstone sacked the left-wing deputy GLC leader, John McDonnell; publicly distanced himself from the hard left; and said he wanted reconciliation with the then Labour Party leadership under Neil Kinnock.

He won selection and election as a Labour MP, from Brent East, in 1987. But the Shadow Cabinet job he may have hoped for never came. Livingstone drifted back to the left; or maybe the Labour left softened and weakened so much that even Livingstone's "cynical soft-sell" approach (his own words) seemed within its ambit.

In 2000 the Blairites' main objection to Livingstone was that he opposed privatisation of the infrastructure of the Tube (track and maintenance). Once elected, Livingstone launched court cases to obstruct the privatisation, but the scheme finally went through on 8 April 2003, and he scaled down his complaint to one about "the best method of financing for the Tube". Management of the network was transferred from central government to "Transport for London", a body run by the Mayor, on 15 July 2003.

Livingstone appointed Bob Kiley, a former CIA agent with a record of taming unions, to run Transport for London. Kiley is paid £500,000 a year.

Late last year members of the RMT union struck against the sacking of a Tube driver, Chris Barrett. Livingstone denounced the strike and said he didn't know why management had let Barrett "get away with it" for so long.

Now London Underground is planning to privatise train operations on part of the Tube, the East London Line, with no demur from Livingstone.

Livingstone's main claim for success as Mayor of London is increased spending on police. When tens of thousands of almost entirely peaceful anti-capitalist protesters filled central London on May Day 2001, Livingstone denounced them and praised the police who responded by encircling groups of protesters with police cordons and holding them in street spaces, impromptu open-air jails, for several hours.

As Mayor he has also allied with City financiers and big business to press for more office skyscrapers and run a joint campaign for British entry into the euro. At the start of his term as London Mayor, he appointed Steve Norris, his Tory opponent in the 2000 election and in the forthcoming new contest in June 2004, to the board of Transport for London.

By now Tony Blair surely reckons that having Ken Livingstone make the occasional maverick speech on world affairs is scarcely an annoyance worth worrying about. From his own viewpoint, he's right.

Workers' Liberty London Forum:
The life, times and politics of Ken Livingstone: A debate

Wednesday 28 January
7.30-9.30 pm
Room 2C, University of London Union, Malet Street, WC1
More details: 020 7207 3997

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