Four ‘old acquaintances’ that Livingstone should forget

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.

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27 Responses to “Four ‘old acquaintances’ that Livingstone should forget”

  1. Democracy News Ven

    Four 'old acquaintances' that Livingstone should forget – Left Foot Forward

  2. AltGovUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: Four 'old acquaintances' that Livingstone should forget: by @DanielElton

  3. Extradition Game

    RT @leftfootfwd: Four 'old acquaintances' that Livingstone should forget: by @DanielElton

  4. Rob Marchant

    Great post, Daniel. On point 2, given the massive weight of evidence against having a relationship with Chávez, it really is a highly effective way to undermine Labour’s credibility.

    For more details, I have blogged at The Centre Left a few times over recent weeks on the silly flirtation with Chavez of the TUC and various unions as well as Ken, starting here.

    Also on point 4, a piece from last October on Ken and Lutfur Rahman here.

    I suspect that the Tories will try to kill Ken on loony-left lack of credibility, it’s the obvious attack line. A shame, because as we all know, he’s a quite competent administrator.

  5. DrKMJ

    RT @leftfootfwd: Four 'old acquaintances' that Livingstone should forget: by @DanielElton

  6. Thomas Byrne

    Four 'old acquaintances' that Livingstone should forget

  7. Anon E Mouse

    Good article…

  8. Extradition Game

    RT @leftfootfwd: Four 'old acquaintances' that Livingstone should forget: by @DanielElton

  9. Sunder Katwala

    RT @leftfootfwd: Four 'old acquaintances' that Livingstone should forget: by @DanielElton

  10. Colm Quinn

    RT @leftfootfwd: Four 'old acquaintances' that Livingstone should forget: by @DanielElton

  11. northwestlondoner

    Yes sadly all of the above has been known for a long time
    That is why 33% voted for Oona
    Now we have had the internal selection what is the is the purpose of this post?
    The main task for Ken and Labour in London is to concentrate on London issues and unite London on a non sectional basis against Boris

  12. ahmed desai


    not keen on this messy election business are you? Chavez keeps winning them despite all the lurid allegations against him because he delivers for the poor; healthcare, schooling and now housing.

    Lutfur Rahman, a bit like Ken himself, won the Labour nomination fair and square then was stitched up by the party machine. Guess what, like Ken, he won anyway. The Labour Party hierachy needs to learn that party democracy is not an a la carte menu.

    Al-qaradawi is a highly influential cleric who has stood out both against terrorism and suicide bombing as well as the demonisation of Muslims in the West. Does this means that Livingstone supports everything he says? No. Anymore than it would be correct to accuse Tony Blair of supporting everything Gadafi has said or done, despite having warmly embraced him in the desert.

    Livingstone’s considerable achievements in office were to do with his own competence and those he appointed. Frankly, I couldn’t care if they all had funny handshakes and rolled up trouser legs, if they rescued London from the disaster that is Boris Johnson and returned it to the growing, outward-looking and diverse city of Ken’s previous two terms.

  13. Stefan

    You write, “Maybe Livingstone is right when he says Qadarawi ‘preaches moderation and tolerance to all faiths throughout the world’”. If that’s the level of your analysis concerning Qadarawi’s attitude towards Jews (who, notably, are not mentioned in your piece) then why should anyone pay attention to what you say elsewhere? A cursory stroll through Google quickly shows anyone who’s interested that Qadarawi is an aggressive, inciteful, unremitting antisemite. But the fact that this does not register among the problems you highlight (instead you raise the possibility he many actually NOT be such a bigot in this respect) is more than disappointing; it’s worrying. It may just be a sign that even those on the moderate Left feel uncomfortable with “Jewish Questions”. And one has to wonder why that would be. For those who are interested/concerned, here’s a starter-pack: and and

  14. Rob Marchant

    A further thought: the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow reports: Killing Bin Laden not putting him on trial “makes Obama look like some sort of mobster,” says Ken Livingstone in an interview with the Standard. So, now we are criticising a (politically moderate) US President, a particularly smart move for someone aspiring to move on the international stage. Oh, and over an action that almost all of the world’s population are thankful for. Smart politics, that.

  15. Ed's Talking Balls

    Those who work in London will surely want to know Livingstone’s views on the RMT.

    Making it extremely difficult for people to get to work is disgraceful at the best of times, but when the economy is in such a fragile state it’s nothing short of disgusting.

  16. The madness of Ken's attack on Obama | Left Foot Forward

    […] as a commenter adds: “A cursory stroll through Google quickly shows anyone who’s interested that Qadarawi is an […]

  17. ex-GLA employee

    Re: socialist action, both Redmond O’ Neill and Simon Fletcher were highly competent and accomplished a huge amount in their time in office. Question their politics all you like but to use the incompetency card is well wide of the mark. To do so quoting Atma Singh a genuine fuckwit of the highest order(trust me, I worked with the fool) makes the argument even lamer.

  18. Anon E Mouse

    ahmed desai – What kind of an person would not criticise the disgraceful comments by the medieval & terminally stupid Yusuf al-Qaradawi as anything other than what they are?

    He says: “[A homosexual should be given] the same punishment as any sexual pervert.” Charming man.

    His wish to stone someone with different sexual preferences to death, or anyone for that matter, serves to remind decent people of all faiths just how dangerous people with his views actually are and he should be condemned at every opportunity. Livingston should know better than associating with him or his backward ilk…

  19. Ed's Talking Balls

    Anon E Mouse,

    Perhaps Livingstone should know better, given how long he’s been around, but he has a track record where dodgy acquaintances are concerned.

    Really, partisanship put aside, he isn’t suitable to represent London. I genuinely believe Labour should have nominated Oona King. I can disagree with her politics but still respect her as a person, whereas I can’t say the same of Livingstone.

  20. Anon E Mouse

    Ed’s Talking Balls – She’s certainly better than Livingstone although he is actually very good with animal rights (newts in particular and I’m not kidding).

    I was never a fan of King but after reading the article in the Sunday Times where she and her husband adopted mixed race children reflecting the makeup of their marriage I have to say she has my respect.

    Livingstone is a busted flush now and Johnson will storm it again I reckon…

  21. ex-GLA employee

    The Qaradawi episode was a clumbsy attempt to demonstrate solidarity with muslims in London who at the time (and still) were a largely deprived, isolated and hated community. I didn’t see it as an endorsement of Qaradawi’s views.

    That said, it was naïve of Ken to think it wouldn’t be seen as such. And he was clearly poorly advised as to the extent to which Qaradawi was representative of Muslim opinion in the city, though he certainly had a fan base in certain communities, eg parts of the Bangla community.

    It was a stupid move made worse by Ken’s typical stubborn response to the criticism. Hasn’t he admitted as much since? I could be wrong.

  22. Parasite

    You attack Livingstone for these appalling colleagues, but then call on all “progressives” to back him as their first or second (presumably in the case of those who vote Green) choice in 2012.

    So where’s the incentive for the man to change the divisive ways of four decades if you won’t threaten to keep him out? You’d back Livingstone for Mayor over Boris, even if Livingstone was found in an Islamabad compound burning Union Jacks and American flags, because he’s apparently a “progressive”. So he will take you and the tribal centre-left for as long a ride as he likes.

  23. ex-GLA employee

    All that apart, the fact is that Ken has more knowledge and ability to manage the mayoralty of London than Johson or Oona put together.

  24. ex-GLA employee

    @ Parasite

    Other than the competency argumtent that Livingstone wins hands down (jesus, have you seen Boris in front of the Assembly?), Ken does pretty well on the balance of progressive policies.

    Plus side:

    – London Living Wage
    – Public transport improvements
    – Congestion Charge
    – Massive promotion of anti-discimination campaigns including hugely popular festivals like Rise
    – Housing strategy
    – Actually turning the Mayoralty from a Blairite confection into a proper administration

    Negative side:

    – Dubious liaisons identified above
    – Blase attitide to the City at times

    Lots to support beyond mere tribal instincts

  25. Ed's Talking Balls

    Fair play to Livingstone on the animal rights stuff. I wish more politicians would support that cause. It doesn’t make amends for all the man’s failings but it does go to show that humans aren’t quite black/white/good/bad.

    Incidentally, what on earth is a “progressive”? The word seems to be cropping up ever more regularly but I find it baffling.

    It seems to me to be a term utterly devoid of meaning. The only times I see it used are when someone is describing an individual I find odious or a policy with which I strongly disagree.

  26. Ken’s criticism of Obama smacks of extremism. | Boris Backer.

    […] many on his own side urging him to renounce some of his dodgy mates, and to temper some of his controversial and extermist views, Ken […]

  27. Anon E Mouse

    ex-GLA employee – You do the typical tactic of the left by condemning Boris Johnson as a man – his appearance, whatever – instead of challenging his argument. Playing the man and not the ball. Charming debating technique. Well done.

    It is your tribal instincts and those of the left in general that will cost Labour dearly at any forthcoming election and shows a lack of intelligence generally. Michael Foot must be turning in his grave….

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