Blacks for Ken, gays for Ken, lesbians for Ken . . .

With the passing of each day, it becomes clearer that mayoralty business is not over until Red Ken sings. I previously described him in this column as a boxer coming out of retirement, with the implication that he may have lost his shine after the halcyon days of the people-oriented Greater London Council, which was followed by his immobility on the back benches at Westminster.

The masses have proven me wrong. Monumentally so. The polls show that Ken Livingstone is the people's choice.

I am struggling with this historical truth. I can only conclude that his success stems from a sense among the majority in the capital that, whatever his flaws, he has given us, much more than any of the candidates, a sense or ourselves as a unified constituency of Londoners.

Some months ago, I got into a huge argument with my friends in my local pub on the qualifications of Livingstone for mayor. It is virtually an all-black pub of male and female retirees with a smattering of youth. Not one of them - hard-working proletarians and Londoners to the core - had been a beneficiary of GLC largesse. They were overwhelmingly pro-Ken. Privately I felt that things would change as we went along and new candidates showed their colours. The opposite is the case.

Ken Livingstone's popularity has pushed new Labour into revealing itself as a democratic centralist vanguard party in the Leninist mould. "The leaders know best" is the creed; they decide, and the masses follow. Vladimir Lenin fashioned the Bolshevik party in this mould at a moment of social and political crisis in Russia. But those are the kind of conditions that do not apply here in Britain in 1999.

I was watching Question Time on the BBC last week. Keith Vaz represented the Labour Party. When the question came up as to whether new Labour had created the electoral college in order to reduce Ken's chance of winning the nomination, Vaz went into a spiel to deny the obvious.

Rather than defend his party's right to have their leaders determine who shall or shall not run, Vaz insisted that the electoral college was as democratic a forum as there could be. There was a collective groan in the studio: "Pull the other one, it has bells on it," seemed to be the audience's response.

To date, only Ken Livingstone and Glenda Jackson emerge smelling of roses. Her stance is clearly anti-democratic centralism. She cannot conceive of an election within the party minus a woman candidate. Courageous, don't you think?

I am still at a loss as to how this great desire on the part of the masses can transcend the certainty of democratic centralism in the Labour Party. After all, it is a powerful organisation with great resources at its disposal. Elections cost money. It is not easy for Ken Livingstone to run as an independent. Where will the dosh come from?

Perhaps a mass organisation of Ken's supporters is on the agenda. Nurses for Ken, Teachers for Ken, Lesbians for Ken, Gays for Ken, Paddies for Ken, Blacks for Ken, Tube Workers for Ken, Businessmen for Ken, Fire Officers for Ken, Asians for Ken, Cypriots for Ken, raising funds, widening the debate and deepening the democratic fibre of this country. These need not be restricted to the duration of the campaign, but could act as a creative brake on Livingstone's excesses during his term of office.

No longer would it be a case of a small body of advisers (democratic centralism again!) drawing up a manifesto, but of interest groups (much more than focus groups this time) having a real input into programme and policy.

Nothing is in the leader's gift this time, not even the choice of deputy or an appointment to head this or that committee. I mentioned the idea to Mrs Howe. Her reply? "Interesting."

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