Poor Ken! He is lost in a mythical realm and loves perpetual opposition

Your special report on the London mayoral campaign ("Making waves in London", 10 April) and your leader ("The rise of the bastard vote") have reminded me how sorry I now feel for Ken Livingstone. I have watched his progress with interest and some admiration for over a quarter of a century. His "Fares Fair" policy was splendid and made a real difference to the traffic in London, where I lived and worked at the time.

But he is not really happy except in opposition. He shares this characteristic with many on the left; Will Self springs to mind. These poor souls cannot compromise and, as a result, any form of government is abhorrent to them. The British public, in common with nearly all other western Europeans, have consistently voted for liberal market-led democracy. This may well be because they have been duped by an evil set of media barons, but it remains a demonstrable fact. The kind of policies favoured by Ken and his like might suit a mythical state lying somewhere between Moscow and Paris where milk and honey flow through canals constructed by contented labourers. Unfortunately, they don't play so well in the world of real politics.

Poor Ken! What a dismal future he faces in politics. The only possible influence he can now have is to hasten the return of a Conservative government slightly to the right of the hated Thatcher regime. Still, I expect he might like that in a perverse way because he could then continue to clean up on the chat-show circuit. Is this fitting reward for his treachery to the party that has tolerated, nurtured and supported him for so many years?

Brian Hughes
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Your London supplement report on the mayor and assembly for London contained one major omission - the health of Londoners. If the Greater London Authority is to make a difference to quality of life, it cannot ignore the importance of a person's health to their well-being. That is why the legislation for the GLA eventually included a remit to promote public health across the range of policies for which it is responsible.

Londoners need to know what the candidates intend to do to improve their chances of a healthy life. Will they consider people's health needs when developing strategies for economic development, transport and the environment? If not, an opportunity to make life better in London will have been missed.

Rabbi Julia Neuberger
Chief executive, The King's Fund
London W1

This article first appeared in the 17 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The rise of the ergonarchy

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.