politics | pimedia.org.uk
“Boris is Britain’s Berlusconi”
Ken Livingstone explains why Boris Johnson is too lazy to be the devil and why Ed Miliband is his favourite Labour leader
Juliet Eales and Samuel Levy, Politics Editors
KEN LIVINGSTONE, Labour’s candidate for the upcoming 2012 London mayoral election, has held many political offices over a career spanning three decades. Most famously, he was London’s first-ever popularly-elected mayor from 2000 to 2008, when he was defeated by the incumbent, Boris Johnson, whom he will face again in the election next year.
Mr Livingstone’s defeat was a
dire blow for Labour – there was a margin of votes of over six per cent between him and Mr Johnson. Now 66, after his first break from day-to- day politics in almost 30 years, he’s back with a vengeance. Mr Livingstone is known in
British politics for his distinctive Left-wing views (like the current leader of the Labour Party, he has been labelled “Red Ken”). After losing the mayoralty in 2008, he worked briefly as a consultant to Venezuela’s socialist president, Hugo Chavez. His Leftism has occasionally
caused tensions within the Labour Party, and with its former leader Tony Blair in particular. He was expelled from the party in April 2000, prior to the first London mayoral election, in which he ran as an independent after failing to secure his party’s nomination. With this in mind, we began our
interview with Mr Livingstone by discussing his more general political philosophy.
Q: Could you describe what
the extent of your socialism is and generally what your political philosophy is?
A: Well, I’ve just spent three years
writing my autobiography that really tries to boil that down to a mere 700 pages, so I can’t really encapsulate it that easily. I come from a right wing working class Tory background and in my mid-teens shifted over to support Labour when Harold Wilson became the leader and he seemed very modern – the sort of Tony Blair of his day. When his government failed to live up to his expectations instead of going back to the Tories I drifted over to the left. And I worked with lots of organised left wing groups over the years but I was just being basically a Labour Party member, very much interested in making things work. So I’m not a theoretician, I’m a
pragmatic manager. I know that’s not terribly exciting but we’ve been able to take up issues that others wouldn’t touch, such as homosexuality and race and sexism and negotiating with the IRA. I was always in the centre of controversy, not for any great theoretical reason but I was pushing the boundary of what the powers-that- be considered acceptable.
Q: Why did you choose to run
as an independent in 2000? A: Because the Labour Party
rigged the ballot. I got 75,000 votes and Frank Dobson [the final Labour candidate] got 24,000 and he was declared the winner. At that point I realised it had been rigged a bit so I went independent to teach them a lesson. And they didn’t do it again.
Q: Given that you have a
reputation of being a fairly staunch leftist, and you were once expelled from the party by Tony Blair, what is
“You’ve got to have an agenda about moving society forward”
triviality, he’s spoken about how we need debate which is crucial about the way Britain goes forward. I liked and got on with John Smith [Labour leader 1992-94], who was not on the left of the party but was a man of absolute integrity. For the first time since John Smith died if you said my
December 2011 | Pi Newspaper email@example.com
Michael Baron Ken Livingstone: “I cam from a working-class Tory background and in my mid-teens shifted over”
the current state of your relationship with the Labour Party and what do you think of Ed Miliband?
A: It’s the best relationship I’ve
ever had with a Labour leader. He’s genuinely Labour. He’s genuinely a socialist. Instead of an obsession with what the media want, which is
life depended on a Labour leader I wouldn’t have a sleepless night.
Q: So you wouldn’t have been
as much of a fan of David Miliband [Ed Miliband’s older brother, who ran against him in the 2010 leadership election] then?
A: I liked David; he worked in
my office as an intern. If he married my eldest daughter I’d be over the moon. But he was profoundly wrong to continue supporting the war in Iraq. I don’t think there’s any way back to power for Labour if it can’t admit the war was a mistake.
Q: You once said that “those
who wanted to see change could not ignore the traditional parties of the left which gave us access to the levels of power” – what advice would you give to those students protesting against the current government who have become disillusioned with
politics? A: I have every sympathy with
the protesters down at St Paul’s, but what you find all round the world is that people agree with the protest but they don’t have serious demands. Because of the collapse of traditional left-wing factions where people went through endless argument and debate and studying works, this is a spasm of anger. It’s completely understandable but you’ve got to have an agenda about moving society forward. I came to the conclusion about
needing to join the Labour Party at the same time as Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who was one of the two leading figures of the student movement across Europe in 1968. He realised at the end of 1968 both in Chicago and Paris and Czechoslovakia that protests had been trampled. And he sort of knew, same as I did, that we needed to begin what he called “the long march through the institutions”.
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