Tag Archives: ken-livingstone

Does the London Mayoralty drive people mad?

Watching Boris Johnson’s appalling behaviour in front of a Parliamentary Select Committee today, I was reminded of someone else: Ken Livingstone circa 2006. The idea of Boris Johnson complaining about partisan attacks is simply too ironic to countenance. This was 2 April, not the day before.

Is there something about the role that makes you a bumptious, vainglorious ass with molecule-thick skin, or is it an entry level requirement in the first place? The jury is out on that one I suspect. Certainly, while the jolly “LOOK AT HIS FUNNEEE HAIR!” HIGNIFY-crafted demeanour of “Bozza” always was manufactured to a certain extent. But I can’t help but wonder if the role itself does reinforce such a mindset.

London Mayors (indeed all directly elected English Mayors) work under a system that gives them almost unchallengable power. To overturn a decision, the Assembly/Council needs to amass a two-thirds majority and the mayor can usually expect at least a third of the council to be of his party. Even independents are pretty safe because the chances of getting the main parties to agree a line are relatively low. On the odd occasion that Livingstone didn’t get his own way, he used to throw appalling tantrums. Johnson doesn’t have to worry about that in the London Assembly, but a Labour-dominated select committee is another story.

If it has taken him just a year before he finds the merest criticism intolerable, what will he be like in another two? And if it has taken him just this long before getting sucked in, how long will it take his successor? Will London even still be standing by then?

Cameron and Johnson timed the Venezuela announcement for after the Crewe by-election

At a stroke, Boris Johnson has undermined the capital the Conservatives have made out of the 10p income tax fiasco. It isn’t that the cheap oil deal with Venezuela was defensible – it wasn’t. It was this sort of tokenism that disqualified Livingstone from office in the eyes of most Londoners. But no-one begrudged low income earners from getting half-priced travel. In Crewe, the Tories ground Labour into the dust attacking them for doubling the 10p rate and blithely ignoring the impact it would have on low income earners. Now the Tories have imposed swingeing cuts on a very similar group in society.

What’s worse is the timing: on a bank holiday weekend just hours after winning the Crewe by-election during which time they had very carefully kept quiet about the plans. It is clear they don’t plan to offer people on income support any alternative, otherwise why the stark announcement rather than a more cuddly “consultation” about how to continue paying for the scheme? It is clear they knew it would be politically damaging. And it is abundantly clear that was not merely approved by CCHQ and Cameron but crafted by them in the first place. Make no mistake – this was Cameron’s decision.

Expect this issue to become a Focus leaflet staple, within London at least. I can think of no better symbol of how paper thin the “new” Conservativism really is. Scratch beneath the surface and the nasty side is just itching to come out. At least now we know, but is has the public already made up its mind?

Oh dear, Livingstone is lost in his own mythologising

Ken Livingstone won the London Mayoral election last week. Well, okay, he doesn’t actually claim that in his Guardian article yesterday, but he comes pretty close:

Nationally Labour’s vote fell by 2% compared to 2004, but in London the percentage of first preference votes I received in the mayoral election went up very fractionally. The increase in the absolute number of votes was striking – up by 220,000, or 30%. There was no Labour “stay at home” factor in London. Four years ago I polled 10.8% ahead of Labour nationally – a week ago this increased to 13%. I received slightly more second preference votes than Boris Johnson. On the London assembly Labour made one net gain.

All of which points to a phenomenally high profile election in which the national and London media helped put out a squeeze message on a daily basis. There are plenty of Labour held seats across the country where they bucked the national trend for the same simple reason: it was clear to the electorate that it was a choice between two candidates.

If the acme of Labour’s ambitions is to come a very good second place in the next general election, they should listen to Livingstone. Otherwise, I suggest they look further afield.

His comments on the Lib Dems are more interesting:

Lib Dem failure in London was massive. They chose to stay outside the progressive alliance of Labour and the Greens. As a result they failed even to reach double-figure support in the mayoral election, and their London assembly seats fell from five to three. Hopefully this suicidal orientation will be reversed in the next four years.

The scale of the Lib Dems’ failure is undeniable (well, undeniable for anyone apart from Mike Tuffrey who sent out an email last week claiming that “actually when the final tally is examined, I think we’ll find that in many areas the total number of people we persuaded to vote for us was up. But that success was masked by a much higher turnout, spurred on by the mayoral Punch and Judy show.” – if only those pesky voters didn’t turn up, we’d have won! No lessons being learned there I fear). I’m not convinced that Livingstone’s prescription for success would have had any effect however. The Lib Dems are a national party which can’t afford to behave like the Greens and avoid scrutiny in the same way. Sian Berry can get away with broadcasting the message “Vote Green, Get Brown“; Brian Paddick and Nick Clegg could not. If we had done so, we would have mortgaged all our potential successes in the local elections across the country, helping the Tories push the message that they were the only alternative to Labour.

There certainly is an argument that we concentrated too much on the Mayoral election and didn’t consider how we could consolidate our standing on the Assembly anything like enough. As a third party which is no longer the repository for protest votes it once was, we have a peculiar problem with the AMS system where people feel they can split their ticket by giving the Lib Dems a vote in the constituency and, say, the Greens a vote in the London-wide ballot and be helping us (solution: our London-wide message in future has to focus relentlessly on the list). But hitching ourselves to the Green-Brown love-in would have done us no good at all.

It might have got Mayor Ken re-elected so one can understand why he thinks it has such appeal, but however much I might have preferred him to be at City Hall right now rather than Bozza, performing the role of Mayoral figleaf has very little appeal for me. Perhaps if Livingstone had understood that, rather than adopt this Bush-style “you’re either with us or against us” approach, he might have been able to come up with a counter-stratagem.