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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The Tories play Game of Thrones while the White Walkers from Brussels advance

The whole premise of the show is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

If you’re a fan of asking “who’s that, then?” and “is that the one who killed the other one’s brother?”, I bring great news. Game of Thrones is back for a seventh series. Its vast assortment of characters was hard enough to keep track of before half of them got makeovers. But now the new Queen Cersei has reacted to the arrival of the long winter by investing heavily in the kind of leather ball gowns sold by goth shops in Camden, and Euron Greyjoy, once a fairly bland sailor, has come back as a Halloween costume version of Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, all eyeliner and epaulettes.

The show’s reliance on British character actors is the only thing keeping me vaguely on top of the cast list: what’s Diana Rigg up to these days in Highgarden? And what about that guy who was in Downton Abbey that time, who now has the scaly arms? (Luckily, the next thing I watched after the Game of Thrones series premiere was the first two episodes of the revived Twin Peaks, which put my confusion into perspective. There, Agent Cooper spent most of his time talking to a pulsating bladder attached to one of those fake trees you get from Ikea when your landlord won’t let you have real plants.)

The day-to-day business of Game of Thrones has always been power – answering the question of who will sit on the Iron Throne, forged by Aegon the Conqueror from the swords of his defeated enemies. But its backdrop is a far bigger threat: the arrival of a winter that will last many years, and the invasion of an army of the undead.

That might seem like an unkind way to think about Michel Barnier and his fellow Brexit negotiators – inexorably marching towards us, briefing papers in hand, while Liam Fox frantically rings a bell at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel – but nonetheless, the whole premise of Game of Thrones is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

The current internal Conservative struggle for power might be vicious but it is at least familiar to its contestants; they know which weapons to deploy, which alliances are vital, who owes them a favour. Meanwhile, the true challenge facing every one of them is too frightening to contemplate.

In 2013, this magazine celebrated the early success of the show with a cover depicting one of our terrifying painted mash-ups: “The Tory Game of Thrones.” Our casting has been strangely vindicated. George Osborne was our Jaime Lannister – once the kind of uncomplicated bastard who would push a child out of a window but now largely the purveyor of waspish remarks about other, worse characters. Our Cersei was Theresa May, who spent the early seasons of The Cameron Era in a highly visible but underwritten role. Now, she has just seized power, only to discover herself beset by enemies on all sides. (Plus, Jeremy Corbyn as the High Sparrow would quite like her to walk penitently through the streets while onlookers cry “shame!”)

Michael Gove was our Tyrion Lannister, the kind of man who would shoot his own father while the guy was on the loo (or run a rival’s leadership campaign only to detonate it at the last minute). Jeremy Hunt was Jon Snow, slain by the brotherhood of the Night Shift at A&E, only in this case still waiting for resurrection.

The comparison falls down a bit at Boris Johnson as Daenerys Targaryen, as the former London mayor has not, to my knowledge, ever married a horse lord or hired an army of eunuchs, but it feels like the kind of thing he might do.

We didn’t have David Davis on there – hated by the old king, David Camareon, he was at the time banished to the back benches. Let’s retrospectively appoint him Euron Greyjoy, making a suspiciously seductive offer to Queen Cersei. (Philip Hammond is Gendry, in that most of the country can’t remember who he is but feel he might turn out to be important later.)

That lengthy list shows how Conservative infighting suffers from the same problem that the Game of Thrones screenwriters wrestle with: there are so many characters, and moving the pieces round the board takes up so much time and energy, that we’re in danger of forgetting why it matters who wins. In the books, there is more space to expound on the politics. George R R Martin once said that he came away from The Lord of The Rings asking: “What was Aragorn’s tax policy?” (The author added: “And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”)

Martin’s fantasy vision also feels relevant to the Tories because its power struggles aren’t about an “endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes”. Instead, everyone is flawed. In Westeros, as in the Conservative Party, it can be difficult to decide who you want to triumph. Sure, Daenerys might seem enlightened, but she watched her brother have molten gold poured down his throat; plucky Arya Stark might tip over from adorable assassin into full-blown psychopath. Similarly, it’s hard to get worked up about the accusation that Philip Hammond said that driving a train was so easy “even a woman” could do it, when David Davis marked his last leadership campaign by posing alongside women in tight T-shirts reading “It’s DD for me”.

The only big difference from the show is that in real life I have sympathy for Barnier and the White Walkers of Brussels. Still, maybe it will turn out that the undead of Game of Thrones are tired of the Seven Kingdoms throwing their weight around and are only marching south to demand money before negotiating a trade deal? That’s the kind of plot twist we’re all waiting for.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder