I saw a joke on Twitter the other day:
“It’s impossible to get sunburnt at Kelly Rowland’s Miami home, because the entire place is built in Beyonce’s shadow.”
Last summer, I argued that Ken Livingstone was London’s Batman. If that’s true, well, Gotham doesn’t want the Caped Crusader anymore. They want the Joker.
The Penguin, incidentally, has moved to Edinburgh.
I am, however, beginning to change my mind. Ken is no longer in the shadows, bringing about social justice in his own unconventional manner. Now, residing in the shade is the London Labour Party. Look up, and you’ll see a slouching figure in a beige jacket. As he walks away into the sunset this one last time, Ken Livingstone casts a shadow over us all. With the power he has wielded here, I’m starting to worry that if he gave us one last glance over his shoulder, he’d turn us all to dust.
Now, I’m not saying that Ken Livingstone is our Beyonce, no matter how bootylicious his doctor says his body is. It would be beneath even myself to make this tenuous comparison, and to back it up with poor jokes like “To the left, to the left, everything you own is being taken under state control and distributed according to need in a box to the left.” I wouldn’t want to subject you to that.
We do, though, have a house built in his shadow. When I moved to London shortly after the 2010 General Election, I was baffled by the hold Ken had over the party here. We don’t have that where I’m from. He’s a big name, sure, but still just a guy. In London, he’s a socialist idol, the lefty messiah, a one-man political movement; he is London Labour.
Even when he wasn’t, he was.
For the past million years (roughly) he has, although he’d be loathe to admit it, cultivated the Ken Livingstone personality party. He did this by spending his life picking fights. All the way back on the GLC, with Thatcher and Kinnock, then later with Blair and then Boris, with plenty scattered in between. He’s a man who could force two sides to argue in a one dimensional world.
Livingstone’s right when he says that directly elected mayors are a bad thing, that they promote personality politics over policy or, as he unfairly and crassly describes it, “the Americanisation” of British politics. In short, the main problem with them is that they attract people like Boris and, yes, people like Ken. This means as well, that the party here as become ever more reliant on him over the past ten years. Without him, there is no figurehead.
For the first time in thirty years, London Labour is going to have to live without Ken. It needs to move on and learn how to exist in a post-Ken age, in a way that, frankly, the Labour Party nationally still does not know what it is in life after Tony. What the Party needs here is closure. Livingstone standing for NEC won’t help, and it’d be a lot better for us all if he pulled out of the race. The best way forward is to accept that there won’t be another Ken, and we don’t need another Ken.
He may not be Beyonce Knowles, but he is, as she once sang, irreplaceable.