By Amina Saddiq
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s suspension from office by the Adjudication Panel of the Standards Board of England has been “frozen” by the High Court pending an appeal. Whatever the final outcome, the issues posed for socialists and serious democrats are clear.
As we have said many times before, Livingstone is not a left-wing, let alone a working-class, politician. His record, from “working closely” with London business to siding with the police against anti-capitalist protesters to calling for tube workers to cross RMT picketlines, speaks volumes. On the question in dispute — his offensive comments to an Evening Standard journalist — he should apologise. Nor has his reflex defence, claiming that he has been targeted due to his views on Palestine and the Israeli government, been particularly edifying. However, none of these are the issue here. Livingstone’s suspension is an outrage against democracy.
The mayor was elected by almost eight hundred thousand Londoners, out of well over a million that voted and a potential electorate of many times more. He was suspended — and could have been sacked - by three appointed bureaucrats. Socialists should oppose unelected officials having the power to sack elected representatives.
In future, particularly in situations of struggle and social crisis, the powers used here against Livingstone will be used to remove genuinely radical representatives from office. The removal of an Australian Labour government, in no way socialist but far more radical in its politics than Livingstone, by the British Governor-General in 1975 comes to mind.
Clearly, we do not support elected representative being immune from prosecution. But if no crime has been committed, only the electorate or their accountable representatives should be able to remove someone from office. Livingstone is being suspended for speaking in an “unnecessarily insensitive” manner and thus “bringing his office into disrepute”. Whether or not one agrees with this characterisation of Livingstone’s comments, the whole conception involved here is both anti-democratic and anti-freedom of speech.
When the Government announced the creation of the Mayoralty, we opposed this concentration of executive power in the hands of a single person. In the democratic tradition of Marxism, we support a large, properly representative London assembly to whose members all officials are accountable and by which they are recallable. More: it should be possible for all representatives to be recalled by their electorate, rather than being untouchable in office for four or five years. Bodies such as Transport for London should be staffed by elected representatives of workers and service-users, not stuffed with bourgeois bureaucrats on six figure salaries.
Livingstone himself has never advanced any critique of the network of patronage and bureaucratic appointments which surrounds the Greater London Assembly and the office of Mayor. In fact, he has gloried in it, surrounding himself with an entourage of Socialist Action members and other sycophantic “left-wingers”.
The point is that real socialists should have higher standards. We must loudly demand Livingstone’s reinstatement.