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

A girl in an Ariana Grande top. Photo: Getty
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The joy of teenage girls is the heart of pop - we can't let the Manchester attack change that

What happened in Manchester feels horribly new because it targeted young girls in one of the places where young girls can be themselves to the fullest.

This morning, while the radio news talked of nothing but Manchester, my 10-year-old daughter asked me if it was still safe to go and see Adele at Wembley Stadium in July. The ticket was her big Christmas present and the printout of the order confirmation has been blu-tacked to her wall for months. She’s as excited about it as she has been excited about any event in her life, but now she’s also scared. Could this have happened to her when she saw Ed Sheeran the other week? Could it happen to her at Wembley, or anywhere else? I am sure that there are similar conversations happening across the country. Some long-awaited birthday treats will be cancelled. Red letter days erased from the calendar. Parents can allay their children’s fears (and their own), and decide to go ahead despite them, but they cannot pretend the fear isn’t there, suddenly, where it wasn’t before.

When I first started going to gigs in 1989, I never worried about not coming back. I fretted about missing the last train back to the suburbs, or not having a good view of the stage. You can feel unsafe at a gig, especially if you’re a girl in a moshpit where boys can’t keep their hands to themselves, but usually not life-or-death unsafe. Fatal crowd disasters such as Roskilde in 2000 and Cincinnati in 1979 have spurred the concert industry into making venues as safe as possible. There are sensible, practical measures you can take to avoid crushes.

Terrorism at music venues, however, is relatively new and hard to deal with. This is why the Bataclan massacre in November 2015 had such an enormous impact. There is no hierarchy of tragedy — a death due to terrorism is a death due to terrorism, whether it’s in a concert hall in Paris or a mosque in Iraq — but some tragedies are so close to home that they change the way you think. The first show I attended after the Bataclan (New Order in Brixton) was charged with a strange electricity, as defiance defeated anxiety and the rational mind silenced this new kind of fear. A few weeks later I saw Savages in Paris and it was even more intense. The venue was small and subterranean. I have never paid such close attention to the location of the exits.

Everyone has tried to reassert normality after an atrocity has felt like this: the first time they took the tube after 7/7, or went to work in New York in September 2001, or danced in Miami after the Pulse shootings, or stayed out late in Istanbul after last New Year’s Eve. In some countries the fear is never allowed to fade. What happened in Manchester feels horribly new because it targeted young girls in one of the places where young girls can be themselves to the fullest.

The joy of teenage girls is the heart of pop, and it is often misunderstood, if not patronised and dismissed. Their excitement doesn’t derive purely from fancying the star on the stage — when I saw Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus (at the MEN arena in fact), the screaming was as intense as it is for any boy band. In fact, it’s not entirely to do with what’s happening on the stage at all. As a critic in my 40s who’s been to hundreds of shows, I may be bothered by an incoherent concept or a mid-set lull, but nobody around me is solely interested in the performance. Even shows that I’ve found disappointing have an ecstatic carnival atmosphere because a pop show is a catalyst for a great night out — one that may have been anticipated for months. The pop star is a vessel for a mess of inchoate desires and thrilling, confusing sensations (Bowie knew this) so the girls aren’t just screaming for the star; they’re screaming for themselves and for each other. They are celebrating music, of course, but also youth, friendship, the ineffable glee of the moment, life at its most unquenchable. It’s a rite of passage that should never be contaminated by even an inkling of dread.

First and foremost, I feel compassion for the victims and their friends and families. Then for the survivors, including Ariana Grande, who will be traumatised for a long time to come. But beyond those immediately affected, this atrocity will cast a long shadow across the youths of countless pop fans. Will something like this happen again? Perhaps not. Statistically, the possibility of an attack at one particular show is minuscule. Over time, the fear will subside, because it always does. My daughter is absolutely still going to see Adele, and she’ll have a whale of a time. But the knowledge that it could happen at all means a loss of innocence.

Dorian Lynskey is a journalist living in London. He blogs at:

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