London needs the politics of unity – not division

24th March, 2012 5:56 pm

It started with the best of intentions. Ken Livingstone would meet Jewish Labour supporters, rediscover some common ground and build some bridges ahead of the mayoral election. And let there be no mistake – those bridges need to be built.

Yet instead of being built, they appear to have been burned.

The letter which was leaked earlier this week suggests that many of those who attended the meeting left with as many (or more) concerns than they entered it with. One of the signatories – Adam Langleben – has written today saying that he’ll still vote for Ken, but he won’t urge others to. Jonathan Freedland – who some pointed to in defence of Livingstone after the letter leaked – has written a damning article for the Guardian today explaining why he can no longer support Ken for mayor. This seems to be the fault line for Jewish party members – those who will grudgingly vote for Ken, and those who can’t.

Ken is clearly a divisive figure for the Jewish community. And through that he has alienated many otherwise staunch Labour supporters and members, including those who went out of their way to meet with him, engage with him and work with him – like Adam and Jonathan. It’s one reason why he isn’t carrying enough Labour supporters with him.

It was not always this way. When Ken has been at his best, it is when he is seen as the mayor for all Londoners. One remarkable week reminds us of that, when after the triumphant Olympic announcement, the 7/7 bombers brought death and destruction to the capital. Ken said that this was an attack on all Londoners. He was right, and London stood united under his leadership.

I think of his speech at the London United event one week after the bombings today. I think about how good Ken was, how right for the role of mayor. How the politics of unity trumped the politics of division. And I wonder where that Ken Livinsgtone is when London needs him.

You can win elections with the politics of divide and rule. You can ignore some communities, some areas, some demographics. You can win elections that way. But you cannot lead a city. You cannot command its respect. Unless you are willing and able to bring it together. 7 years ago, London was united under Ken Livingstone.

Now it feels divided, and I fear that Ken does not realise that he is aiding some of those divisions himself.

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