Ken Livingstone casts a shadow over us all

6th May, 2012 4:30 pm

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.

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  • Bill Lockhart

    Isn’t the punchline missing the word “not”?

  • AlanGiles

    “Livingstone standing for NEC won’t help, and it’d be a lot better for us all if he pulled out of the race. ”

    So that  they can have yet another “safe pair of hands” three bags full, sir right-winger?. I don’t agree – unless what is wanted is Labour to continue to stick to the lets-not-frighten-the-horses principles of hanging onto the coattails of the other two parties.

    We have to face facts however “Tory-like” Labour becomes it will never win over die-hard Tories.

    If we pandered to every populist cause as es[poused by the Sun and Daily Mail, not only would we bring back capital punishment, but we would have public executions as well.

    Sometimes you have to be brave and lead – then others can follow.

    • aracataca

      In the way that you lead and we follow you?

      • AlanGiles

        In have no idea what you are talking about. Would you care to expand a little?

        • aracataca

          You said that ‘sometimes you have to be brave and lead and then others will follow’. I was wondering if you were referring to yourself here? 

          • AlanGiles


            I think it is fairly obvious that I was referring to the party – the party needs to stop being afraid of telling people what it believes even if it doesn’t tie in with the latest Tory tabloid newspaper ideas. I used the example of capital punishment because even the Conservative party would not (at the moment at any rate)  reintroduce it to mollify those bloodthirsty people who would like it reintroduced.

          • treborc1

             Well in Wales the news is Peter Hain will be stepping down from front line Politics within the next few months, of course his seat will be part of the boundary change and he would have to fight for another seat somewhere, so another  heavy weight leaves, it’s starting to look like all these New young people in politics will have to look to the Tony Blair to get advice.


          • aracataca

            Sorry Alan. Thanks for the clarification.

    • “We have to face facts however “Tory-like” Labour becomes it will never win over die-hard Tories.”

      That’s not the aim of keeping the party in the centre, though, Alan. Explain to me how we build progressive majorities without swing voters. “Be brave and lead and others will follow” was our mantra in the 80s, when Thatcher was doing untold damage to the country and Labour had no path to victory. Those in the middle who can be persuaded to vote for us do not neccesarily believe that literally no good concepts ever emanate from the centre. For that matter, neither do I. Part of the reason we lost this campaign, probably, is because we went with Ken again rather than risk turning to new blood, and although I admire much of what he has done for the party and London in the past, I feel we need fresh voices on the NEC.

      • AlanGiles

        But the problem is the right wing of the Labour party seem to regard those of us on the left with more contempt than they do the Tories (just read some of Rob Marchant’s arrogant put-downs to those who disagree with his scribblings on LL).  It seems you can only be an “extremist” if you are on the left – there is nothing “extreme” about taking the country to unwinnable wars or Field’s contempt for those on benefits, ditto Liam Byrne.

        The problem with the “centre” is that they drift all too easily to the right – just look at some of the Islamaphobia on LL and elsewhere promoted by right wing Labour figures – given their cue originally by Blair while he was seeking to be George Bush’s obedient servant.

        As regards the recent contest – the choice was between KL and Oona King. ms King is not universally loved either.

        Perhaps, as the Mayoral contest is so personality focussed it could form the basis of the next ITV Saturday night “talent” series – “Who Wants To Be A London Mayor” with Chris Tarrant and Ant and Dec?

  • Andrewjones

    I don’t think is quite a fair article. If you weigh up what Ken has done in his political career against where he has failed I think you’d see plenty we can thank him for.

    Yes he’s not exactly known for towing the party line, but there are times when the party line is wrong (ie Iraq war).

    Ken is a strong personality but so is Boris.

    Ken did us proud on campaigning on issues and in London we have a majority Labour Assembly- I think this makes Boris a lame duck Mayor in effect.

    • treborc1

      When you think Nye Bevan was sacked by labour for being out spoken, says a lot about Ken, I mean if he had won  the election he would be a hero and all these people writing on here with articles  would have being writing how he stuffed Boris, he loses he’s evil.

      • Kaj

         I agree… but isn’t that politics…’the winner takes it all and all that’.

  • Kaj

    Basically all this writing just to say ‘don’t vote Ken for NEC’. Dear oh dear!! Should such pieces be even allowed? Why doesn’t Labourlist then also produce similar pieces putting down Luke Akehurst too, while they are at it. 

    Labourlist is descending into a farce with all the put-Ken-down pieces – where is the piece that acknowledges an individual who has achieved many things in his 41 years in Labour?  Some of his achievements and legacy for Londoners will outlive many of us – so why none to celebrate this?

    I know we have the youngest PM for many many years and probably one of the youngest Labour party leaders too but that does not mean to say that foetus’ across the Labourland with little knowledge of politics, or life in general should come  and dictate who should or shouldn’t stand in the NEC, even if your father was a neocon ex-MP.

    Although under Ed we are starting a new chapter, we still need experienced members to be involved, so that their experiences and mistakes can be passed on and learnt from, as the torch passes onto the next generation.

    Personally as a Londoner (by the way longer than 2010 – so how you can just comment with probably little understanding of Ken’s achievements), of all the candidates in the NEC, I think Ken should definitely be in the NEC.  Certainly in policy terms, he has a great grasp of what ordinary people need and a large section of the LAbour grassroots pulse also (which is why he won more than 2/3rds of the membership when he gained the Labour nomination in 2010).

    • treborc1

       yes well said.

      • Alexwilliamz

        Apart from when he stood as an independent against a Labour nominee 😉 But then I guess it was technically a New Labour nominee.

        • treborc1

          New labour or not new labour it was the party which gave us Ed who worked for Blair, so really not a lot changed really.  I mean labour wanted to put forward it’s own mayor and so Ken stood as an independent perhaps he should have done the same again

      • MattWales

        Wasnt very Labour through and through when he backed Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets against Labours Helal Abbas was he?

        • AlanGiles

          It’s not very Labour for Kate Hoey to work for  Boris Johnson, or Frank Field to suck up to Duncan-Smith either, but you dont hear a lot about that

          • MattWales

            I wouldn’t recommend putting them in the Lords either, in fact I’d prefer there wasn’t a Lords to put them in.

            Anyway, we’ve already got Jenny Tonge in the Lords so Livingstone would be surplus to requirement.

        • treborc1

          Do not know enough about it to argue the case.

        • John Dore


      • Paul – Romford

        Not very Labour when he stood as an independent in the first Mayoral election. Ken is the reason that many Londoners voted for the other candidates. Because Labour did not have a candidate in this election.

        • AlanGiles

          Short memory, Paul. If you remember Blair engineered it so that Livingstone was precluded from being considered as a Labour candidate. Blair always wanted his own way, and standing as an Independent was the only way KL could circumvent Blair’s machinations.

          He was a Labour mayor in all but name though in that first term; Blair had to relent from his petty-mindedness for the 2004 election, knowing that if KL stood again Blair’s “Labour” would be thrashed again.

  • derek

    The pope joke?

    The Pope met with the College of Cardinals to discuss a proposal from Shimon Peres, the former leader of Israel.”Your holiness,” said one of the Cardinals, “Mr. Peres wants to determine whether Jews or Catholics are superior, by challenging you to a golf match.”The Pope was greatly disturbed, as he had never held a golf club in his life.”Not to worry,” said the Cardinal, “We’ll call America and talk to Jack Nicklaus. We’ll make him a Cardinal, he can play Shimon Peres … We can’t lose!”Everyone agreed it was a good idea. The call was made and, of course, Jack was honored and agreed to play.The day after the match, Nicklaus reported to the Vatican to inform the Pope of his success in the match. “I came in second, your Holiness,” said Nicklaus.”Second?!” exclaimed the surprised Pope. “You came in second to Shimon Peres?!””No,” said Nicklaus, “second to Rabbi Woods.” 

    • treborc1

       Good enjoyed that one.

  • Mike Homfray

    Perhaps reliance or hero worship of any individual should be discouraged. If only those who want Blair back or can’t get used to Ed as leader would realise that. But Ken’s influence has been huge. He was willing to go where others didn’t. The reason the Left undoubtedly won the cultural war here is very much down to his excellent work.

    I want Ken on the NEC and I hope party members respect the work he has done by returning him. The London Labour Party seemed to do pretty well overall and I am sure they will manage!

    • derek

      I’ll second that @Mike Homfray.

    • PaulHalsall

      Put him in the Lords.

    • john_zims

      ‘He was willing to go where others didn’t. The reason the Left undoubtedly won the cultural war here is very much down to his excellent work.’

      Wouldn’t vile,divisive,tax avoiding scumbag be more accurate?  

      In the end it wasn’t those rich bastards that didn’t get it, it was the hypocrite that didn’t get it.

      • AlanGiles

        Wouldn’t vile,divisive,tax avoiding scumbag be more accurate?  ”

        That would certainly be an excellent description of Tony Blair, to which you could add war-mongering hypocrite.

        Livingstone certainly was a trail blazer where issues of equality were concerned

      • Dave Postles

        I had hoped that we try to avoid the epithet scum and scumbag on this list.

      • John Dore

        it sums it up, this is the chance to put him out to pasture, nobody wants a hypocrite in the public eye and certainly not Ken. 

        As for the name “vile,divisive,tax avoiding scumbag be more accurate” There are too many on this thread perfectly happy for that to be the case, but you know what he’s one of them so it dont matter. Far better labelling those they dont like with that one. Eh Alan?

        • treborc1

           Gosh without looking at the name I could have sworn this was Guy

          • AlanGiles

            Well, if he is let’s hope the fantasies of grandeur are edited out of his schtick!

        • AlanGiles

          Mr Dore. With all due respect you are pissing in the wind. KL has announced he is not standing again – or perhaps you are so busy  rehearsing striking your faux outraged pose you hadn’t heard that?

          Politics is full of hypocrites, Mr Dore – regardless of party – I could name several who were outraged by benefit claimants “playing the system” while they cheerfully defrauded the country with their “expenses” claims.

          • John Dore

            Nothing faux about me, but I’m not the guy spending a lifetime on the interweb, spouting crap all day calling people names accepting hypocrisy from the team I support.

            I like being a realist.

          • AlanGiles

            You seem to spend a lot of time on the “interweb” yourself – on LL anyway – “calling people names”, and using words like “crap” about a philosophy you have no real interest in. You are another “Guy” who mistake ignorance for wit.

            Like the unlamented Guy you are perfectly at liberty to leave us as well “Mr Dore”

          • John Dore

            Whatever, you have the veneer of a lefty used to years  of being battered and oblivious to any truth that you dont like. 

        • Dave Postles
        • trotters1957

          Another  petit bourgeois rim kisser.
          You remind me of Hudson, the butler off Upstairs Downstairs.
          The bell’s ringing you’d better rush off Upstairs to your betters.

          • John Dore

            “another  petit bourgeois rim kisser.” I expect nothing less than crass from you and your like.

  • john_zims

    Don’t need Ken when you have an  Oxbridge educated, millionaire, whose never had a proper job,but whose dad was a marxist leading the party

    • PaulHalsall

      How exactly is Ed Milliband a millionaire?

      • John Dore

        Are you being obtuse?

        • Dave Postles

          We can say, I think, that his father didn’t make a large proportion of his money by investing offshore in the Cayman Islands to avoid tax (vide Ian Cameron).

        • PaulHalsall

          He may have some personal wealth tied up in a house, but that is not quite the issue.  He does get paid decently for his job, but it is noy millionaires pay.

          • treborc1

            Ed Miliband has a personal fortune thought to be worth about 4.5 million.

            Today in the News of course Ball’s brother has a share of a bonus pot of £57 million through his work with Pimco.

            seems the working class are dead these days everyone is well off except me.

          • John Dore

            With what you write here, you’re not exactly the sharpest tool in the box are you?

          • Dave Postles

            That comment is just gratuitous personal abuse.

          • AlanGiles

            Good morning Dave, Just click on his avatar and read some of his other outpourings!

            I think he should contact the charm school and ask for a refund on his course

          • John Dore

            Thats the pot calling the kettle black.

          • PaulHalsall

            Fair enough. I stand corrected.

            How did he get such personal fortune?  As I reviewed his career I can’t really see where the money would have come from?  His wife is a barrister. Is that the key?

            Or is this related in some way to the massive rise in prices  for Hampstead real estate?

  • TomFairfax

    Hi Conor,
    You’re standards are slipping. This is humourous and relevent, even though you mistyped the punchline.
    The problem with any elected mayor is that it requires a cult of personality to be a successful candidate. Labour in London simply don’t have a charismatic replacement for Ken. Look who he beat for the nomination. Underwhelming non-entities that would struggle to make watching paint drying seem more interesting. Alec Salmond or George Galloway would give Boris more of a run for his money than the time serving, spad brigade that seem to predominate as alternatives.
    And that is the problem. Elected Mayors, full stop. Personality counts more than policy. In that case who checks the policy. Eventually we will end up with Ein London, Ein Mayor, Ein Fuhrer. I just hope I’m not around when it happens.

    • AlanGiles

      I totally agree Tom. The job calls for you to be 80% entertainer and 20% politician. Whoever gets it will have to be both TV friendly and TV savvy – for example Diane Abbott, who feels comfortable before the cameras. I am not proposing her, by the way, to save everybody venting their spleen on me, If you are the slightest bit diffident you make no impression (for example Brian Paddick). I have heard so many people say that “Boris makes us laugh” and he is happy to play up to the befuddled buffoon image


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