Lord Ken of Cricklewood? Say it ain’t so

Ken for a peerage and/or shadow cabinet role? He's not always been the best judge of public mood.

Rumours were being widely circulated yesterday that Jeremy Corbyn is about to appoint Ken Livingstone as a Labour peer. Not only would this put the former mayor in a position to take a shadow cabinet role, it would also show Labour moderates that their leader means business and doesn’t plan to capitulate to their pressure any time soon.

It would also be a completely stupid idea.

Of course at this stage it is only a rumour, albeit a compelling one. Conspiracists may think that by allowing the Livingstone rumour to generate, particularly after his recent outbursts, all other changes in the Labour leader’s rumoured reshuffle will seem tame by comparison – reducing the ever-vengeful moderates to a feeling of relief rather than anger, whatever the other outcomes.

But if the rumours are true they certainly need a rethink.

Ken was a formidable Mayor, nobody can deny that. He was outspoken, didn’t toe the party line, nor anybody’s line, which may have made him tricky to deal with but it certainly made him very popular, particularly with Londoners who for the most part felt he had their interests at heart.

Many of us will have our top Ken moments. His speech after the 7/7 bombings perfectly captured the mood of the capital, not resigned to being scared, but finding the resolve to carry on as normal. As he said at the time:

“This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.”

But Ken hasn’t always been such a good judge of mood. It was utterly disgusting that he warmly invited Yusuf al-Qaradawi – who he described as “one of the leading progressive voices in the Muslim world” – to London in 2005 with the intention of enhancing relations between the West and the Muslim religion; a man who endorsed genital mutilation, the execution of homosexuals and wife-beating.

It was only this year that al-Qaradawi decided to oppose the tactic of suicide bombing in Israel by Palestinians, and even then he points out that this tactic is still permissible to those specifically living under Israeli occupation.

It was also very telling that Ken supported a Labour opposition candidate in Tower Hamlets in 2010 who had links with the Islamic Forum of Europe, which should have been enough to land him in hot water with the Labour party anyway, let alone his continued presence on their National Executive Committee.

And if you think that’s all ancient history, since the election of Labour’s new leader and the promotion of Ken to co-convenor of Labour’s defence policy, Livingstone has told Kevan Jones MP, who suffers with depression, that he might need “psychiatric help” for some of his opinions, and told an audience of BBC’s Question Time that the 7/7 terrorists gave their lives in protest – a trope worthy of the label neo-colonial in its denial of autonomy and responsibility of those evil Asian and Jamaican men.

Still not convinced? Then perhaps just listen to Ken’s own words on the House of Lords and peerages:

  • In 2012, asked whether he would accept a peerage from Ed Miliband, he told the Radio 4 Today programme: “Oh God, no, spare me that. I’ve been punished enough.”
  • Speaking in July: “There’s a scandal every now and then, the House of Lords just carries on getting bigger and bigger. We should abolish it. It’s a complete joke. Cameron’s about to stuff it with more of his cronies, if Labour wins we’re going to have to stuff it with more of our cronies. Soon we’re going to have a thousand of them!”

If Ken is the best we have, then we are in trouble. But as a positive message to Jeremy Corbyn, there are plenty of socialists within the parliamentary Labour party who are far more worthy than Ken; far better able to judge the public mood and tell right from wrong.

For the sake of the party, listen to the former mayor when he scorns Labour for stuffing the Lords with their own cronies. He didn’t realise then how right he’d be.

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