No one is born to rule

To call Ken Livingstone to account is not to attack Labour, or support the Conservatives - quite the

There is nothing more unattractive than a politician who thinks he is born to rule. This is as true of Boris Johnson as it has been of so many Conservative politicians in recent memory. David Cameron and George Osborne try their hardest to hide it, but Eton, Oxford and a tidy independent income make it difficult not to believe that the world owes you an oath of fealty. Even with his new haircut, Johnson, who shares the same pedigree, still has the look of a man accustomed to service from the lower orders.

This is why Labour politicians must never become so arrogant that they think they are no longer answerable for their actions. This is why Ken Livingstone's reaction to the allegations in the Channel 4 Dispatches, The Court of Ken, screened on 21 January, is so disappointing. Livingstone risks becoming as arrogant in power as his historic adversaries in the Tory party, by systematically refusing to answer the questions we have raised about the way he spends public money and the electoral activities of his close circle of advisers.

Right up until the point of transmission, the mayor attempted to browbeat Channel 4 executives into dropping the film by suggesting that it was being shown too close to May's mayoral elections. Over the weekend, his office tried to smear the reputation of Atma Singh, a brave whistleblower who appeared in the film, for being a threat to national security. His crime: objecting to the mayor's policy of support for radical Islam and refusing to meet members of the Metropolitan Police who feel the same way.

Claims conceded

On the morning after transmission, the mayor changed tack. At his weekly press conference, instead of dismissing the central claims in the film, he conceded they were all true. He admitted that he did indeed drink whisky at Mayor's Questions at ten o'clock in the morning, but as a form of self-administered treatment for bronchitis. Yes, he said, his staff would not be allowed to do the same, but that was not his decision, but the London Assembly's. He then alluded to Winston Churchill's wartime drinking, a sure sign that he is beginning to have delusions of grandeur. Believe me, Ken, you are no Winston Churchill.

He also admitted that a campaign was conducted against Trevor Phillips's candidature as head of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights from within City Hall, just as we said in the programme. But he saw no problem with that. Most seriously, he admitted that his advisers, paid from the public purse, had worked on his personal campaign for re-election in 2004. Just to be clear, that's public money from tax payers of all political persuasions being used as a de facto donation to the Livingstone campaign. At first, he justified the campaigning, writing of articles and fundraising because he claimed it took place outside office hours. But Glen Goodman, a reporter from ITV's London Tonight, pointed out that emails he has seen had been sent from the "KenforLondon" campaign to the mayor's advisers during the working day. Livingstone then shifted his ground again by saying that it was impos sible to define when his advisers were technically at work, because they worked such long hours.

The mayor has created a problem for himself here, and his advisers will not be thanking him for his candour. Perhaps Livingstone believes it is perfectly proper to use advisers earning more than £100,000 from the public purse to work on his election campaign. Such behaviour would be completely unacceptable in Westminster, but then City Hall has few of the checks and balances of our national political institutions.

It is now for the Electoral Commission and the Standards Board of England to decide whether Livingstone and his advisers breached the rules. At present, it looks as if the mayor believes he is untouchable. The institutions designed to hold him to account must prove they can do their job - and that includes the London Assembly, which has so far failed to rein in the mayor's excesses.

Legitimate investigation

It has been suggested that the political editor of the New Statesman should not have become involved with a project that could have a grave effect on the electoral chances of Labour's candidate. I do not accept this. Labour politicians should not receive special treatment The Channel 4 documentary was an entirely legitimate investigation into the office of Mayor of London. The only incumbent of that office is Ken Livingstone. We found serious structural weaknesses in the mechanisms designed to hold the mayor to account. This would apply to anyone elected to that position. The point is that Livingstone has a unique position in the British political system and he should not be immune to scrutiny.

Livingstone needs to get real and so does the Labour Party. Attempts by the mayor's office to distract people from the damning claims contained in The Court of Ken have not washed. This was not a party political broadcast for the Boris Johnson campaign; I am not driven by a personal dislike of Livingstone, although as a result of our investigation I now think that he is unfit for office. It is not a campaign led by the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard: the Guar dian and the Observer have both run leaders calling on Livingstone to justify himself.

He has now accepted that the claims in the film are true. His latest attempt to shrug them off will not wash. It is not just pro priety, but the appearance of propriety that matters. No one is born to rule.

This article first appeared in the 28 January 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Merchant adventurer

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Stella Creasy targeted for deselection

Organisers on the left believe the Walthamstow MP is the ideal target for political, personal and geographical reasons.

Stella Creasy, the high-profile MP for Walthamstow and defeated deputy Labour leadership candidate, is the first serious target of an attempt to deselect a sitting Labour MP, the New Statesman has learnt.

Creasy, who is on the right of the party, is believed to be particularly vulnerable to an attempt to replace her with an MP closer to the Labour party’s left. Her constituency, and the surrounding borough of Waltham Forest, as well as the neighbouring borough of Leyton and Wanstead, has a large number both of new members, inspired either to join or return to Labour by Jeremy Corbyn, plus a strong existing network of leftwing groupings and minor parties.

An anti-bombing demonstration outside of Creasy’s constituency offices in Walthamstow – the MP is one of around 80 members of Parliament who have yet to decide how to vote on today’s motion on airstrikes in Syria – is the latest in a series of clashes between supporters of Creasy and a series of organized leftwing campaigns.

Allies of Creasy were perturbed when Momentum, the grassroots body that represents the continuation of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, held a rally in her constituency the night of the Autumn Statement, without inviting the MP. They point out that Momentum is supposedly an outward-facing campaign supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party towards the 2020 general election and the forthcoming local and European elections. Labour holds 27 out of 27 council seats in Creasy’s constituency, while Creasy herself has a majority of 23,195 votes.

“If you look at the seat, there is nothing to win here,” said one Labour member, who believes that Momentum and other groups are planning to depose Creasy. Momentum has denied any plot to remove Creasy as the MP.

However, Creasy has come under pressure from within her local party in recent weeks over the coming vote on bombing Syria. Asim Mahmood, a Labour councilor in Creasy’s constituency, has called for any MP who votes for bombing to face a trigger ballot and reselection. Creasy hit back at Mahmood on Facebook, saying that while she remained uncertain of how to vote: “the one thing I will not do is be bullied by a sitting Walthamstow Labour councilor with the threat of deselection if I don’t do what he wants”.

Local members believe that Mahmood may be acting as the stalking horse for his sister, the current mayor of Waltham Forest, Saima Mahmud, who may be a candidate in the event of a trigger ballot against Creasy. Another possible candidate in a selection battle is Steven Saxby, a local vicar. Unite, the recognized trade union of the Anglican Communion, is a power player in internal Labour politics.

Although Creasy has kept her own counsel about the direction of the party under Corbyn, she is believed to be more vulnerable to deselection than some of the leader’s vocal critics, as her personal style has led to her being isolated in her constituency party. Creasy is believed to be no longer on speaking terms with Chris Robbins, the leader of the council, also from the right of the party.

Others fear that the moves are an attempt by Creasy’s local opponents to prepare the ground for a challenge to Creasy should the seat be redrawn following boundary changes. The mood in the local party is increasingly febrile.  The chair of the parliamentary Labour party, John Cryer, whose Leyton and Wanstead seat is next to Creasy’s constituency, is said to fear that a fundraiser featuring the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, will take an acrimonious turn. Cryer was one of just four shadow cabinet ministers to speak against airstrikes in Syria.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.