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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Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

Trump will lead the whitest, most male cabinet in memory – a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

“What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective”.

It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

There has been much discussion about the lack of experience of many of Trump’s appointees (think of the incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign affairs) and their alleged bigotry (the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, denied a role as a federal judge in the 1980s following claims of racial discrimination, is on course to be confirmed as attorney general). Yet what should equally worry the average American is that Trump has picked people who, in the words of the historian Meg Jacobs, “are downright hostile to the mission of the agency they are appointed to run”. With their new Republican president’s blessing, they want to roll back support for the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and don’t give a damn how much damage they do in the process.

Take Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has claimed that the debate over climate change is “far from settled”.

The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is Trump’s pick for housing and urban development, a department with a $49bn budget that helps low-income families own homes and pay the rent. Carson has no background in housing policy, is an anti-welfare ideologue and ruled himself out of a cabinet job shortly after the election. “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience,” his spokesman said at the time. “He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

The fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped to run the department of labour, doesn’t like . . . well . . . labour. He prefers robots, telling Business Insider in March 2016: “They’re always polite . . . They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the department of education, did not attend state school and neither did any of her four children. She has never been a teacher, has no background in education and is a champion of school vouchers and privatisation. To quote the education historian Diane Ravitch: “If confirmed, DeVos will be the first education secretary who is actively hostile to public education.”

The former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for the role of energy secretary by Trump, promised to abolish the department that he has been asked to run while trying to secure his party’s presidential nomination in 2011. Compare and contrast Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal science but failed a chemistry course in college, with his two predecessors under President Obama: Dr Ernest Moniz, the former head of MIT’s physics department, and Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Berkeley. In many ways, Perry, who spent the latter half of 2016 as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is the ultimate kakistocratic appointment.

“Do Trump’s cabinet picks want to run the government – or dismantle it?” asked a headline in the Chicago Tribune in December. That’s one rather polite way of putting it. Another would be to note, as the Online Etymology Dictionary does, that kakistocracy comes from kakistos, the Greek word for “worst”, which is a superlative of kakos, or “bad”, which “is related to the general Indo-European word for ‘defecate’”.

Mehdi Hasan has rejoined the New Statesman as a contributing editor and will write a fortnightly column on US politics

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era