Preview: Ken Livingstone:"The world is run by monsters"

Our exclusive interview with the Labour challenger, in tomorrow's magazine.

Our exclusive interview with the Labour challenger, in tomorrow's magazine.{C}

boris ken

Click here to read extracts from Jemima Khan's interview with Boris Johnson

For this week's issue of the New Statesman (on newsstands tomorrow), Jemima Khan interviewed -- on the same day -- both of the leading contenders for the 2012 London mayoral election: the incumbent, Boris Johnson, and the inaugural mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Here are some edited from Khan's breakfast with the Labour challenger.

Ken on Boris:

I think he has real ability, real intelligence, and he just never achieves his potential with it. It is why I think in the end he won't be prime minister . . . I don't think he has really got a solid ideological brain, like [George] Osborne or [William] Hague. It is very hard to find anything in Boris's career that he's serious about. He just loves life too much to really succeed as a politician.

Ken on Thatcher:

Clinically insane.

I am not going to watch it [The Iron Lady]. I do not want to feel sympathy for her. I feel sympathy for the people whose lives she destroyed.

Ken on bankers' bonuses:

In the time I was mayor, I used to do meetings with City bankers and I'd often open by saying, 'This isn't the world I would have created . . .' [Bankers' bonuses are] like penis extensions, among a small league of men - mine is bigger than yours.

. . . The world is run by monsters and you have to deal with them. Some of them run countries, some of them run banks, some of them run news corporations.

Ken on his private life:

We [Boris and I] both have five [children]. I can admit to all mine.

[The public] should be allowed to know everything, except the nature of private relationships - unless there is hypocrisy, like some Tory MP denouncing homosexuality while they are indulging in it.

Pressed by Khan about his use of "Tory MP", Ken responds:

Well, the Labour ones have all come out . . . As soon as Blair got in, if you came out as lesbian or gay you immediately got a job. It was wonderful . . . you just knew the Tory party was riddled with it like everywhere else is.

Ken on News International:

When Murdoch smashed the [print] union I refused to be interviewed by any Murdoch [paper] out there for - let me think, for five years, and then when I realised his empire didn't collapse with my boycott, I recognised I had to give in and go and be interviewed by them.

Ken on what he will do if he wins:

We will restore the 1,700 police jobs that have been lost. We spent all day yesterday locked in a room going through the police budget . . . We have only made two specific pledges - to cut fares, we know we can do it; and to restore police cuts, we know we can do it. The other thing will be cutting top salaries and using the money to give above-inflation pay increases to the lowest-paid.

Ken Livingstone quick-fire questions

How important is it to be liked?
It is nice, but I would rather do what is right than be liked.

Your idea of perfect happiness?
I suppose it's on a beach with a pina colada. Very cheap and tacky.

Your greatest fear?
That humanity is virtually extinct by the end of the century. It's a very real risk with climate change.

Which living person do you most admire?
Living person? I can only admire people who I have never met and are dead - because you know so much about anyone who is alive. The people I really most admire are Robert Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. If you know someone, it is very hard to revere them. I mean, how many people revere me, for God's sake?

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I don't work hard enough. If I had worked harder I might have been prime minister.

What's the trait you most deplore in others?
A love of Boris.

On what occasions do you lie and when did you last lie?
I think I have gone through my entire public career never telling a lie. I have made mistakes but I never knowingly lied. In your private life you do [lie], because you don't want to hurt people's feelings and all that and also you want to protect yourself.

Which living person do you most despise?
There are so many members of the government I could say that about, but I might have to deal with them in a hundred days' time, so I really shouldn't.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I am not going to answer that.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
My voice. I would like to sound like James Mason. I reckon if I'd had a better voice I could have been prime minister. It is the most irritating voice in public life.

What is your motto?
I don't believe in any of that nonsense. Get up and work.

When did you last cry?
Oh, whatever silly thing I watched on TV. I can easily lose myself emotionally in absolute Hollywood garbage.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
When I was at the GLC and we only had a majority of four, the Tories always demanded special sessions, hoping to catch us out. They had a legal power to demand a special session, but I had the legal power to say when it would be - and I always called it on Friday afternoon because a handful of the Tories went to their country estate for the weekend. And then I was reading Suetonius's Twelve Caesars and [Julius Caesar] did exactly the same thing. He convened the senate on Friday afternoons. That is the only thing I can say identifies Julius Caesar with me - we chose the same squalid tactic.

What is your greatest boast?
That I am still here after 30 years of unremitting media hostility.

Click here to read extracts from Jemima Khan's interview with Boris Johnson

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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