The Blairite Ken

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

The Greater London Authority and Ken Livingstone are supporting the London ESF. A demonstration of the progressive politics of the London Mayor perhaps? Not quite. John Bloxam examines his record.

In June this year Livingstone intervened into a pay dispute on the London Underground to say that members of the RMT union should cross picket lines. He was urging people to scab. This is a disgrace, but one that comes on top of many other disgraces.

Ken Livingstone joined the Labour Party at the end of the 60s, at a time when the left was streaming out of the Labour Party in disgust with the Wilson Labour government. He was a left-wing councillor in local government and on the Greater London Council.

In July 1978 Livingstone signed the founding statement of the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory, which included opposition to cuts, rent and rate rises and a pledge to use local government to mobilise opposition to whatever government, Labour or Conservative, would win the 1979 election.

However, by 1981 Livingstone was leader of the GLC and he began to break from Labour’s class struggle left. Livingstone sought softer, safer options.

He still talked “left”, giving GLC money to selected politically correct good causes, making gestures towards conducting an independent GLC foreign policy — on Ireland for example. But all that was instead of a policy of confrontation with Thatcher and using the GLC as a base from which to mobilise working class resistance to the 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.

In June 1987 Livingstone won selection as the parliamentary candidate in Brent East with the support of the right wing. But the Shadow Cabinet job he may have hoped for never came. And so 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 1990 Livingstone was fined for not paying the poll tax. But at the same time he started to write a column for the Sun which had engaged in savage union-busting in 1986–7. And Livingstone used his column to attack sections of the left, for example, the Anti-Nazi League.

In 1992, when Neil Kinnock stood down as leader, Livingstone tried — and failed — to get enough nominations to stand. He ran a spoiling pseudo-campaign, mocking and jeering the left, and supported publicly by the Sun (“Vote Ken, a real man of the people”).

When Blair pushed the proposal for a directly elected Mayor into the manifesto for the 1997 General Election, Livingstone described the idea as “barmy”, But by 1999 he was campaigning to win Labour nomination for London Mayor and professing loyalty to Blair. After he was “stitched up” in the selection procedure, and with a clear lead in the polls, Livingstone stood as an independent candidate for Mayor.

In 2000 the Blairites’ main objection to Livingstone was that he opposed privatisation of the infrastructure of the Tube. Once elected, Livingstone launched court cases to obstruct the privatisation, but no more. 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” and Livingstone appointed Bob Kiley, a former CIA employee with a record of taming unions, to run Transport for London. Kiley is paid £500,000 a year.

In the GLA, Livingstone took Tories and Lib-Dems into his Cabinet, and launched a joint campaign with City financiers for British entry to the euro.

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.

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.

In February 2004 Livingstone was let back into the Labour Party. 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.

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