Socialist Worker

Why did Ken lose the London mayor race?

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2302

The sight of Tory Boris Johnson winning the vote for London mayor was the most nauseating moment from the elections.

This parasite described his £5,000 a week from the Daily Telegraph for writing a column as “chicken feed”. Yet he managed to pose as the “man of the people”.

Johnson’s narrow victory means the candidate of the 1 percent won. Although that won’t be much consolation for David Cameron, who may fear that his party would prefer Johnson as leader.

Labour’s Ken Livingstone has announced that he will not stand again for election. During his campaign, sections of the Labour Party openly attacked him.

Figures such as Lord Sugar, Lord Winston, and Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland declared that they would not vote for him.

Livingstone also faced a vicious media campaign against him. The London Evening Standard spearheaded this, acting as a daily propaganda sheet for Johnson.

But socialists must expect hostility from the capitalist media and the Labour right.

The real problem was that Labour’s campaign for Livingstone was so lacklustre. His policy of fare cuts was popular, but he never energised the mood against the Tories.

Previously he won more votes than Labour’s average. This time he achieved about the same as Labour’s national score.

There was no sense of a vibrant mobilisation against cuts, racism and the bankers. This would have had a much better chance of beating Johnson.

Instead Livingstone became embroiled in allegations about whether he had paid enough tax.

Reflected

Livingstone’s political career has partially reflected the rise, and the problems, of the Labour left. In the 1980s he led the Greater London Council.

He consistently enraged the Tory government and frequently heartened the left by supporting strikers and campaigning against racism, homophobia, sexism and imperialism. The Sun denounced him as “the most odious man in Britain”.

Unable to defeat Livingstone by electoral means, Margaret Thatcher abolished the GLC in 1986. A year later Livingstone was elected as MP for Brent East. For ten years he remained a well‑known figure, but far removed from any real influence.

Then the post of mayor of London was created—and Livingstone saw an opportunity.

After losing a rigged selection procedure to the Labour leadership’s choice, Frank Dobson, Livingstone announced he would stand independently. He was expelled from the Labour Party, but won a clear victory.

Livingstone has always argued that there is no real alternative to Labour. But he did best when he stood against the party.

In 2000, when he ran as an independent, hundreds of thousands of Londoners voted for him with enthusiasm. Here was someone standing up to Tony Blair’s New Labour. Here was a radical who at least nodded towards the anti-capitalist mood after the Seattle protests of 1999.

He won easily. But he immediately tried to return to Labour. Livingstone was back in the party by the 2004 election—and far less popular. Labour was on a sharp decline as Tony Blair waged war on Iraq and attacked working class people.

Four years later, many people didn’t vote for Livingstone because they wanted to hit back against Blair’s legacy and Gordon Brown. Livingstone lost.

Ken Livingstone sharply reflects the contradictions of reformism. He supported the miners during the great strike of 1984–5 and opposed the war in Iraq. He once said, “Every year the international financial system kills more people than World War Two.”

But he has also denounced anti-capitalist protesters and called on workers to cross picket lines. He campaigned for right wing Labour candidates at elections, produced a pro‑business plan for London and backed the police who killed Jean Charles de Menezes.

Livingstone’s defeat is a disappointment. But it also shows that we need an alternative to the Labour Party.


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