Thursday, January 24, 2008
Beyond the Ken posted by Richard SeymourLook, if anyone asks, I wasn't here. I'm busy. I have things to do. But as it's my coffee-break, allow me to expatiate a bit on this nasty little witch-hunt against London mayor Ken Livingstone. He is, according to creeps like Martin Bright and the Evening Standard crowd, a drunk, a brawler, a cronyist, a confederate of "Trotskyists" (Socialist Action, a tiny group that operates within the Labour Party), and a collaborator with evil (the Muslim kind). As Seumas Milne points out, where it isn't irrelevant, it's largely reactionary whinging. It isn't the first time there's been a media frenzy over Livingstone's alleged failings. There were the allegations of anti-Semitism from the Evening Standard a while ago when Ken Livingstone compared an Evening Standard reporter to a concentration camp guard and the guy happened to be Jewish. The Sun routinely attacks Livingstone, especially over his "shocking anti-US rants". Labour Friends of Israel once tried to undermine Livingstone's mayoral campaign with a dossier accusing him of an "anti-Zionist bias". But the recent spiral of attacks is designed to ensure he is replaced as London mayor by Boris Johnson. There's a section of New Labour opinion that would rather have four years of the tweedy twit from Henley and then get a proper pro-war Blairite figure selected as the Labour candidate next time round. Nick Cohen is such a one. Amazingly, Johnson was just 1% behind Livingstone in a recent poll.
The mayor of London has one or two things going for him. He has resisted, by and large, the Islamophobic agenda of his opponents. He has opposed the war on Iraq. He cut a nice little oil deal with Hugo Chavez which cut bus fares for low income earners. And even though the congestion charge is unfairly applied it did succeed in reducing traffic in Central London, and he is successfully reducing emissions. He also didn't allow himself to be bullied by the pro-pigeon lobby. These things count. On the other hand, he has largely been a pal to New Labour, ditched his efforts to block tube privatisation, pushed neoliberal fiscal policies, and promoted the interests of the City. He has attacked striking tube workers and called on people to cross picket lines. He smeared the tube driver Chris Barrett who was unfairly sacked by London Underground as a "parasite". He has attacked anticapitalist protesters. He has defended the police who shot Jean Charles De Menezes and particularly the Met Commissioner. While he has promoted the idea of a limited amount of affordable housing - a good idea, but drastically short of what's needed - he has decided to allow the market to determine what counts as "affordable". In fact, he usually gives in to pressure from the Home Builders' Federation, as when he abandoned minimum space requirements that were designed to prevent Londoners being cramped into smaller and smaller homes - this matters a lot when, especially in places like Tower Hamlets, few family-sized homes are built by the private sector, and overcrowding is endemic. I might mention that before he became mayor, Livingstone was one of the most disgusting cheerleaders of the war on Yugoslavia. Livingstone doesn't recognise the category of a principle, and is notorious for flopping left or right depending on the circumstances. As he is a creature of the Labour Party electoral machine, he usually flops to the right. Like I say, his strengths do count - they just don't count for much.
However. Livingstone is much better than his bigoted neoconservative opponent, Boris Johnson. Johnson is not merely an old reactionary racist twit, he is aggressively pro-imperialist, aligned with the Ed Vaizeys and Michael Goves of the Tory party, the Henry Jackson wing. When it comes to a contest with the Tories, there is no contest. The Tomb should have something about the upcoming GLA and mayoral elections shortly. I don't know about you, but I will be voting for Respect candidates where I can. That will include putting my cross beside Stop the War convenor Lindsey German for London mayor. However, I will put Ken Livingstone for my second preference, as I did in 2004. My understanding is that the Respect candidate is urging people who vote for her to put Livingstone as the second preference. Interestingly, when Lindsey German stood in the last mayoral election, Livingstone took the trouble to praise her, noting that the non-sectarian way in which she mobilised "allows her to campaign for her political position without risking a Tory victory". He was right. Lindsey was able to beat both the BNP and the Greens and come out fifth, but at the same time the Tories lost by a decent margin. Backing Livingstone for a second preference, in order to properly campaign on the issues that matter while doing nothing to assist a Johnson victory, is obviously the best way to proceed. But right at this moment, and whatever criticisms are justly levelled at the mayor, I think it obvious that everyone on the Left ought to defend Livingstone against this tetra-tsunami of reactionary twaddle. As you were.