Maybe it’s because I’m not a Londoner…

March 23, 2008 at 9:46 am (elections, Livingstone, voltairespriest)

… that I’d rather not support Ken Livingstone for Mayor? Somehow I just can’t muster any massive enthusiasm for Livingstone, nor do I feel the chilling terror of his major opponent (Tory buffoon Boris Johnson) that the Mayor’s re-election campaign appears to be trying to instil in the electorate. To hear the statements coming from some of Livingstone’s supporters you’d think that this was a race between Che Guevara and some kind of combination of Adolf Hitler and Satan, and I just can’t see what is effectively a council election on steroids in such apocalyptic terms. I also, try as I might, just can’t bring myself to like the oleaginous Livingstone, who is still trying to morph himself from his previous status as a grinning celebrity chat show guest, to having some kind of political gravitas. Ironically of course, Johnson is a product of the same media clowning circuit that Livingstone is. Bojo versus Bozo – what an appetising choice for the people of London.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate that there are policy differences on things such as affordable housing targets, not to mention the burning lifestyle issue of bendy buses versus routemasters, and that obviously the latter is a life-or-death which should have me up all night in a cold sweat. But again, these differences are at best the differences between a centre-left liberal and a centre-right economic libertarian. At worst (as with BusGate) they’re no more than a question of gimmickry and posturing – emblematic of shallow metropolitan politics at its worst.

The tone of the campaign is also rather unpleasant at times – it may be a sign  that Livingstone’s supporters are desperate when stories emerge in the press making barely veiled accusations of racism towards Johnson, either directly or via the proxy of accusations levelled at those who happen to support him. Similarly the same old Evening Standard campaign alleging all manner of misbehaviour on Livingstone’s part seems also to be raising its ugnly head. Darren Lilleker has an interesting article on the dangers for a less-than-universally popular incumbuent like Livingstone “going negative” and playing the race card. For the record, I don’t believe either man is a racist or indeed any less scrupulous than the average politician; I think that such playground accusations are what rush into the gap left by the absence of a serious policy debate over serious political differences.

Even where there are serious political differences, these are over issues that the Mayoralty cannot directly affect. Livingstone’s record on the Iraq war, for instance, is an honourable one whereas Johnson’s is appalling. However neither man will be able to do any more about it from the Mayor’s office than they could from the House of Commons when both were maverick backbench MPs. So again, whilst I recognise the differences, somehow I just can’t seem to care.

So, what of the other candidates? My friends in the AWL are half-heartedly backing Lindsey German, the SWP candidate. This is presumably on the basis that she’s the sole candidate of the left, to Livingstone’s left. Doubtless her campaign, whilst essentially worthy, will be a token effort at best. Sian Berry, the occassionally impressive Green candidate, has already effectively subordinated her campaign to Livingstone’s. Brian Paddick is a light-weight choice for the Liberal Democrats, being little more than a NOTA vote for people who really can’t stand both Livingstone and Johnson.

So Londoners are faced with a choice between an increasingly tired-looking Mayor who (in spite of “going negative” indecently early in the campaign) can’t crack 40% of first preferences, a Tory who is closing in on 50% virtually by default, and a procession of flaky fringe candidates.

All I can say is I’m glad it’s not my choice.


  1. johng said,

    But Johnson IS a racist. He’s said racist things. Nothing wrong with saying so.

  2. Dr Paul said,

    Maybe the AWL hates Livingstone more than it hates the SWP; difficult to believe, but maybe that’s a factor here.

    It does put the AWL’s Labour entrists in a difficult spot. Supporting a rival candidate in an election is the most unforgivable sin in Labour Party politics, so an entrist AWLer is putting himself or herself in danger of expulsion from the Labour Party if he or she follows the AWL line. But what if the entrist AWLers [i]do[/i] vote Labour: that would mean disobeying the AWL line, wouldn’t it? Either way, they’re in trouble!

  3. mj said,

    I agree wiv johng Bojo is a racist – I also can’t understand the awl’s line here.

    Ken who has many faults is also one of the better new labour candidates. (Obv not on the socialist standards of corbyn and mcdonnell but hardly a brownite) so if your not gonna support a vaguely left wing candidate as an entryist why bother being an entryist?

    I think Bojo would be terrible for london (which is why I set up the fb group)

  4. modernityblog said,

    we’re getting sidetracked slightly, volty’s made some very good points, but lets’ deal with them:

    is Boris Johnson another Enoch Powell?

    probably not, does he come out with racist notions, yes, as you would expect from someone of his privileged background, his isolation from humanity and an Etonian upbringing

    by the same token, is Ken Livingstone free from borderline racism? no, as any one following his “go back to Iran” comment would know

    does that mean they are the same? obviously not, one is a scumbag Tory and one is the Labour candidate

    if Labour lost, would that detrimental effect the London working-class? probably

    has Ken Livingstone done himself any favours over the last few years with, jobs for the boys, cronyism, dodgy connections, proposing scabbing on the RMT and sucking up to property developers? certainly not

    is any other candidate credible? not by a long shot

    what will Londoners probably do? apathetically vote for Ken

  5. charliethechulo said,

    These days, advocating a vote against the official Labour candidate is no big deal, and won’t get you expelled. So, Dr Paul, all your conspiracy theories about the AWL wanting to rid itself of an “entrist” wing, are simply…bollocks.

  6. voltaires_priest said,

    MJ – it’s not the AWL’s line, it’s mine. The man is an idiot, not a dyed in the wool racist. Ditto Livingstone is a bozo, not an anti-semite. Either way, neither of them is either London’s Nye Bevan, nor its Enoch Powell. I’m sick to the back teeth of seeing more significance made out of this election than actually exists.

  7. voltaires_priest said,

    … if you’re referring to the article, I mean. I make quite clear how I differ from the AWL there.

  8. Peter said,

    Agree I don’t know why Ken’s supporters are trying to brand Boris a racist. He’s way too affable for people to hold a few risque jokes against him. It just makes the accusers sound like shrill puritans.

    Okay, I don’t live in London but I can’t see my life changing one iota, whichever one gets it.

  9. Phugebrins said,

    You can debate who you “support” until the cows come home, but frequently the distinction boils down to a semantic question – deeply interesting, but of little political content. It’s who you intend to vote for, or who you would vote for if you were from London, and in what order, that is the relevant question. (Yes, it’s also a question of whether you’ll be out leafletting for Ken/Lindsey/Sian/Boris, but I’m guessing we’re at the stage where that’s an assumed ‘no’).

    Likewise on London, the issue is not some abstract one of supporting or disagreeing with people, but it’s a case of what effect a vote will have in practical terms: Does a 1st preference for Sian put pressure on Ken to hold to environmental policies? Is Boris actually goring to be making gay people’s lives harder in London? Is his pro-privatisation tendencies enough to make it necessary to 2nd preference Ken – even with his anti-tubeworker record? And what would not voting achieve – is it really going to be attributed to an objection to the candidates from the left – or is it going to be put down to apathy?

  10. modernityblog said,

    Galbraith had it right:

    “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous (Boris) and the unpalatable (Ken). “

  11. voltairespriest said,

    Actually I’d rate them both as “unpalatable”. It’s a choice between them and the bland (Paddick).

  12. mj said,

    @ volty – I meant the awl line on voting german.

    I will be out leafletting for ken 1 to get the vote out and % up to stop the bnp and 2 to stop bojo.

    Bojo is a racist and its not just his jokes its the cosying up to the bnp line against political correctness all with the thinly veiled racist digs.

  13. voltaires_priest said,

    I’ve got every respect for your stance – although I think we’d differ in more general terms (this particular election taken aside) on the importance of a Labour vote per se. However I honestly do believe it’s absurd to suggest that Johnson is some kind of serious racist. It’s one of the nastier sides of the Socialist Action cabal (although I’m not sure if this is the reason for the hysterical tone of Livingstone’s campaign) that they’ll tend to use such accusations as a political device, and as such I really don’t think you should give them so much credit. Like I say, Johnson is clearly a tosser, but nothing much more serious than that.

    As to minimising the BNP vote, I’m all in favour of that obviously. But I don’t think they’re in with much of a shot at the mayoralty – isn’t the main threat at GLA level? Furthermore, that raises the question of whether campaigning eyeballs-out for crap Brownite GLA members will actually help the BNP in the long term when – as is inevitable – said Brownites do nothing for working-class Londonders.

  14. Daniel Nichols said,

    The line of this post is unbelievable. Johnson is clearly a racist, he has referred to the Lawrence enquiry as being “Orwellian”, said that racism is “natural” and spoke of the “tyranny” of majority rule in South Africa. He has also supported fascists being a part of governments in Italy and Austria.

    The prospect of Johnson becoming Mayor with the BNP having 1-3 assembly members is truly terrifying. Ken will veto BNP GLA members being put onto the Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Development Authority, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and Transport for London, Boris won’t.

    As for “Brownites” doing nothing for working class Londoners what about the London Fire Brigade cleaners who are now paid the London Living Wage because of the votes of the Labour members of the fire authority? Or my parents who are OAPs and enjoy free travel all over the capital, despite the firerce opposition of Tory local authorities?

    Volty is talking dangerous rubbish!

  15. voltaires_priest said,

    Dan, that’s just hysteria. Johnson is an arse, and probably more right-wing than his lovable buffer reputation suggests. But the fact that he says stupid and insensitive things puts him no closer to the BNP than the average loudmouth arse in yours or my local pub.

    As for the Labour Members’ services to working-class people, ask the RMT what they think of them. Honestly man, you’re degenerating into apologising for the Labour Right.

  16. Daniel Nichols said,

    Most of the loudmouths in my local are racists, and quite a few are BNP supporters. Why are you being so soft on Tory bigots?

    As for the RMT, they represent a very small part of the Labour movement in London. Of course the Labour AMs aren’t socialists, but they are a lot better than the Tories.

  17. Jules said,

    VP – If you think that the differences between a hard right Thatcherite and an old school social democrat are inconsequential, or that the ramifications of this election will not extend well beyond London, then you are politically disorientated at best.

    Furthermore – what the fuck does Boris have to do before you think he’s a racist – don a white hood and set fire to crosses? He’s also a sexist, homophobic pig too for that matter. Compass have done a dossier on him – it’s worth a peek.

  18. Dangerous clown « Shiraz Socialist said,

    […] people on the left (including even our own Voltaire’s Priest) don’t think Boris is such bad news. I contend that he is. Not to agree with […]

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