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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.