Observer interview with Ken Livingstone

Sunday’s Observer carried an interview with Ken Livingstone. Interesting to see what someone does after the most personal job in politics for eight years. Read it here.

The interviewer reflects on the eight years as Mayor:

He has an eye for detail, he delegates well, and he gets things done. Even his worst enemies agree that he was hugely instrumental in London winning the Olympic bid, throwing himself behind it early on, and whatever you think about the congestion charge system, it’s not that it doesn’t work. The question of his Blairesque ‘legacy’ is still up for grabs, but it’s down to him that Crossrail is finally going to happen and by anybody’s measure there’s a whole lot more buses on the roads. You even occasionally these days see a copper on a mountain bike rather than a panda car – he’s very proud of the fact that he’s ‘the first politician in 30 years to get policemen back out on the streets’.

The new Mayor has not yet received – the same reception. The Mayorality is a political position unlike any other in British politics – the Mayor is the executive power, a single person, there’s no cabinet or government, the buck stops with him. The Ken Livingstone style was very different to the Boris style – he got advised by people and retained key decisions whereas Boris delegates to deputies.

The interview also talks about Livingstone’s outspokenness:

But then it’s his outspokenness, his anti-politicianness, which has always endeared him to the public. He says it how he finds it, and has a talent for insults like no other. When I ask about Veronica Wadley, editor of the Evening Standard, which campaigned against his re-election, he calls her ‘pure evil’. And he refused to compare Amanda Platell, the former Tory spin-doctor and now Daily Mail columnist, to an attack dog ‘because that’s unfair to attack dogs’.

The interview discusses Ken Livingstone’s love of London, and politics:

‘I could never leave. I love it here. It’s where I want my children to grow up. When people say to me, “You shouldn’t have lost to Boris, it’s not fair”, I say to them, “If someone can remove you from political power, you shouldn’t be there. This is the life that we have chosen.” That’s a line in Godfather II when Hyman Roth says, “Mo Green was like a son to me, but when he was killed, I didn’t complain because this is the life we have chosen.” And these are the rules.’

It goes on to discuss the importance of personal and political loyalty to Livingstone, which damaged him – for example his support for Lee Jasper despite criticisms and accusations against him. It appears the new Mayor is being quicker to try and prevent such accusations when concerns over inappropriate comments by his own team have been raised (however it came about).

The interview also touches on what Ken Livingston is doing now – including his turning up at Mayor’s Questions at City Hall to see how his successor is doing, which has led to this response from Tristram Hunt:

Livingstone was a great mayor, but his era is over. Either Ken should go and play with the forces of international capital for which he expressed such admiration during his time in City Hall. Or, like a Cricklewood Cincinnatus, he should tend his garden and feed his newts, having served his civitas well.

Hunt also says that

Despite Boris Johnson’s recent clanger over the Olympics memorandum of understanding – which he claimed didn’t exist, when it was up for everyone to see on a government website – the new mayor has not thus far proved a disaster”

(which I assume is not a measure of success thus far).

The difficulty being Mayor is that you deal with big, strategic issues. You are the leader showing the way to go, you are, generally, not empowered by law to get on the ground and change some of the big things (but have the greatest influence over transport and policing). The main power is to influence and direct others. The approach Mayor Johnson is taking is more collaborative and may work, but only if he shows leadership and an absolutely clear theology behind what he is doing. Livingstone’s was clear, but criticised for being divisive. How will the new Mayor’s work?


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