Over the course of his career, candidate for London Mayor Ken Livingstone has had some unsavoury political 'friends' - but for the sake of good governance, it's time to let them go.
With all eyes on the elections and Alternative Vote (AV) referendum on Thursday, many will not realise that, as of today, there is exactly one year till the London Mayoral election. With an impressive list of achievements under his belt, including winning the Olympic bid, the congestion charge and extending the community support officer policing scheme – and as the challenger best placed to unseat Boris Johnson – all progressives in the capital should vote Ken for first or second choice.
However, as even many on Ken’s campaign would admit, he has had a chequered past. Among the most unfortunate aspects of his career to date has been to walk hand in hand with some frankly unsavoury political ‘friends’.
This behaviour probably will not affect his chances of election – the biggest single factor in that will be the unpopularity of the Tories and how much of that sticks to the current Mayor. But for the sake of good governance, it is time to throw these sometime ‘comrades’ under the bus.
1) Socialist Action
Take an average right-wing nutjob’s conspiracy theory that there’s a vast secret left-wing effort to control the world through the placing of members in prominent positions, reduce on a low heat to farce, and you are pretty much left with Socialist Action.
This post-Trotskyite grouplet, whose members refuse to publicly acknowledge their membership and carry code names, would be an interesting diversion for students of hard left factions. Except their closeness to Livingstone, married to their practice of entryism, leads to the allocation of key jobs based on faction membership, and not competency. The political and the administrative become interwoven. Once in position, they centralise power and operate a command-and-control attitude to keeping a ‘party line’.
As former adviser to Livingstone and former Socialist Action member Atma Singh put it:
“They always wanted to impose their own views and positions on what I was going on behalf of my community… [While working for the mayor] I felt I was treated the same as when I was in Socialist Action – like a small child being told what to do, which included being shouted at.
“I accepted it for a long time but I shouldn’t have. It’s just abuse.”
That is no way to run a campaign, and no way to run a city.
2) Hugo Chavez
Incidentally, Socialist Action is one of the reasons why some on the Left continue to go soft on Hugo Chavez.
It can be argued, with some credibility, that the Chavez of 1998-2000 was not that different to that now international hero of right, left and centre, Brazil’s Lula. He brought in people from across the political spectrum into his government. He looked to maintain membership of the IMF. He sought to renegotiate oil contracts to bring in more money to spend on social programmes. Plenty of those social programmes have done a lot of good.
However, today it is undeniable that Chavez has consistently centralised power and undermined human rights.
Amnesty International have said:
“Attacks, harassment and intimidation of those critical of government policies, including journalists and human rights defenders, were widespread [in 2010]. Unfounded charges were brought against those who opposed government policies…
“Journalists were harassed, intimidated and threatened… Members of opposition political parties were harassed, threatened and intimidated, including by the use of spurious criminal charges. On several occasions the security forces failed to intervene when government supporters physically attacked suspected opponents.”
Surely even the most cringeworthy of apologists would declare Chavez’s continued support for Gaddaffi – his ‘friend‘ – after the Libyan leader had declared war on his own people, as the final straw. Livingstone should stand down from any job he has with Chavez. He may not be a dictator, but he is not someone that any self-declared democrat should say they are ‘proud and honoured’ to work for.
3) Yusuf al-Qaradawi
Livingstone’s repeated inviations to one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leaders was shameful to all self-respecting liberal supporters of ‘Red Ken’.
Maybe Livingstone is right when he says Qadarawi “preaches moderation and tolerance to all faiths throughout the world”. He also preaches homophobia, and defends suicide bombing. Qaradawi cares so much about women’s rights, he argues that husbands should only be allowed to hit their wives “as a last resort”, and then only “lightly”. He should never step back into City Hall. Ever.
4) Lutfur Rahman
Labour’s internal democracy often leaves something to be desired – as Livingstone’s first run at Mayor attests. However, being a member of a party comes as a set menu, not à la carte. In Tower Hamlets, Labour’s candidate was Helal Uddin Abbas, after Lutfur Rahman, originally chosen by the local party, was disqualified by the NEC. However, Ken went out to campaign for Rahman. It made Livingstone, and his party, look absurd.
If Livingstone was not happy with how Rahman, the previous Labour leader of Tower Hamlets council was treated, he could have just stayed away.
The strange things is, non of Livingstone’s achievements in power depended on him behaving like this. It is time to grow up.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.