“You know that I have long held the opinion that a Labour Left which accepts you as any sort of leader, or even as a member, is a Left that lacks purpose, standards, memory, self-definition and proper self-respect” – Sean Matgamna, Open Letter to Ken Livingstone, 2010.
The net finally seems to be closing on Ken Livingstone. For decades, this strutting shyster and shameless charlatan has somehow ‘got away with it’ in the eyes of much of the ‘left’ (from the liberal-left Guardianistas to the ‘far- left’ of the Socialist Action and Socialist Worker variety).
Some of us, like Sean Matgamna of the AWL, rumbled Livingstone early on and had no hesitation in denouncing him for what he was (and remains): a posturing, fake-left gobshite willing to grovel to the powerful and, indeed, anyone, no matter how reactionary, who might do his career some good.
But, astonishingly, most of the ‘left’ and much of the trade union movement has continued to be taken in by (the future) Lord Redken of Gobshite. Their chummy approach is summed up by the fact that they feel themselves to be on first name terms with him – he’s always “Ken” to these idiots.
Even when he sank as low as anyone who claims to be a socialist can sink, and called for scabbing, the Livingstone ‘brand’ has remained strangely unsullied. Until now.
It turns out that this champion of the poor and oppressed, this scourge of the ruling class, is nothing but a dirty, hypocritical, two-faced tax-dodger. Most of us first heard about this last Sunday from Nick Cohen’s column in the Observer. Cohen, an honest left-wing journalist has been one of the very few writers in the mainstream liberal-left media, to have consistently attacked Livingstone in recent years, and for the right reasons. But Cohen’s understandable hatred of the man has led him to an unfortunate political conclusion with regard to the forthcoming London elections: “I will vote for Labour assembly members, then Green, Lib Dem or something equally silly for mayor, and offer no second preference. If Johnson wins by one vote, I’ll say that was Labour’s fault for putting forward Livingstone, not mine. We own the politicians. They don’t own us.”
The AWL, which has been denouncing Livingstone for even longer than Cohen, still calls for a Labour vote in the mayoral, as well as GLA, elections;
Vote Livingstone… very critically
By Andrew Smith
Ken Livingstone has aligned himself with the Occupy movement and attacked the tax-avoiding rich. Now, however, it seems he is one of them himself.
There has been a minor scandal in the media because Livingstone and his wife set up a company to channel money from his media appearances and speeches — allowing them to avoid the 50% income tax rate and pay 20% corporation tax instead.
It’s right that there should be a scandal. It’s a shame it’s so far mostly limited to the press, and limited to the issue of tax-dodging. The real issue here is that Livingstone is a very rich man trying to get richer — not the kind of individual who can seriously represent working-class London.
Nor is it “just” a matter of personal wealth. It’s his policies. In 2008, when Labour chancellor Alistair Darling proposed a trivial tax on foreign financiers, and was backed by the Tories, Livingstone opposed the move. While as London Mayor he never offended the City, or property-developers, he did go out of his way to attack the unions on London Underground.
Livingstone’s record and his policies on a whole range of issues — not just basic “class struggle” ones, but his links to reactionary semi-Islamist forces — rule out the idea that he is a serious left-winger, let alone a socialist. This is abundantly obvious, if you don’t close your eyes to it. Go on Livingstone’s campaign website, for instance, and you immediately confronted with a special page featuring an image of policeman’s helmet and a pledge to increase police numbers.
Unfortunately a huge swathe of the left is closing their eyes. Livingstone’s union backing is — so far — completely uncritical, while the SWP seems to have only published one sentence on the election: “We will be backing Labour’s Ken Livingstone for London mayor” (of course, the SWP sees Livingstone’s Islamist links as a virtue).
We should still work for a Labour victory — despite Livingstone.
However inadequate from a working-class socialist point of view, Livingstone’s policies are different from Johnson’s. He says he will cut fares and reinstate EMAs for London college students. He has backed a campaign to defend and extend council housing. He opposes more cuts than Johnson does, anyway, and has even supported some strikes.
These differences reflect the underlying reality that Livingstone is the candidate of the labour movement. The fact that the labour movement does not have the political will to impose a better candidate — a candidate who is not a friend of the City and who has not openly encouraged RMT members to scab on their strikes — or even to put more pressure on Livingstone is a reflection of our weakness. We seek to address that.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is openly and unreservedly a servant of the ruling class, committed to class warfare against the working class and the labour movement. He opened his campaign with an Evening Standard interview pledging to bring in driverless trains and smash the Tube unions.
A victory for Labour in the mayor and GLA elections will be a blow, however limited, against the Tory government. We should not trust Livingstone an inch, and organise to exert the maximum pressure on him. But we should do that while working for a Labour election victory.
NB: Even one of Livingstone’s closest media allies is now being mildly critical…but his no.1 cheer-leaders on the ‘far-left’ remain diplomatically silent. The tragedy is that a whole generation of socialists have been encouraged to have illusions in Livingstone, and many are now left very disillusioned indeed.