Ken's ass need fear nothing from Trevor

Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Greater London Assembly, in a rare outburst, threatened the new Mayor, Ken Livingstone, saying that he intended "to kick ass". Ken, he said, is building a Kenocracy. He, Trevor, seeks the interests of the people of London.

First, let me explain the term "to kick ass". It is a black Americanism, but one used by the New York middle-class blacks. The ghetto version is "to kick your mother-fucking ass". Our Trevor is hardly ghetto. He simply means that he is about to disci- pline Ken's tendency to make appointments without the say-so of the party bosses in Millbank. He will get nowhere.

These spats between Labour members of the assembly and the independent Mayor show that, in a new organisation without parliamentary traditions, the combatants are forced to reveal themselves in the raw.

Phillips's earlier plans have been scuppered. He thought that Ken would lose the Labour nomination and that, as Frank Dobson's deputy, he would ride home easily. He expected to serve illustriously as the chair of the police committee - crime and policing being the major preoccupations of Londoners - and then to succeed Dobson as mayor in the second term.

Now, as the chairman of the assembly, Phillips does not have much public presence. He has to force it, keep pushing his face before the general public. Hence: kick ass!

Ken, I know, is determined to keep Phillips out. He was deeply offended when he offered Phillips the chance to run as his own deputy and was called a racist for his pains. Phillips refused the offer, with the grand announcement that whites always tended to place blacks in second place. Then he accepted exactly that position with Dobson.

Furthermore, Phillips and his team tried to undermine Ken's challenge by spreading the story that he hadn't paid his taxes. This was serious back-stabbing and Ken is a street-fighting man. It would take a miracle for Phillips to succeed Ken, but the battle is on and will be at the core of the assembly's deliberations in the current term. I like it. No spin-doctoring here, no shadow-boxing as between Tony Blair and William Hague in the Commons. We are about to witness pure and unadulterated power conflicts.

Phillips's weakness in the main is that the black community that ought to be his base is overwhelmingly for Ken; the gender issue that he sought to raise by slagging off Mike Tyson did not have the impact on women he expected. And nobody can say what exactly Phillips's political orientation is. "Vote for me and I will build 100,000 houses by nightfall," he seems to say. But it is just not enough.

There are other, equally important appointments taking place. The cultural strategy committee chaired by my Channel 4 colleague, Yasmin Anwar, is quite interesting. Apart from her experience as a commissioning editor of programmes, she has a decent enough political background. She fought Diane Abbott for the Labour nomination in the Hackney North and Stoke Newington parliamentary seat.

This committee particularly holds my interest because of my long preoccupation with the Notting Hill Carnival. I have said here before that the artistic input to the costume and dance is rather commonplace. The parade of bands is becoming a more meaningless and drab exhibition by the year. Much of it is a transfer from Trinidad Carnival. Many people believe that it is distinctively ethnic. It is not. It has its origins in the pagan festivals of Europe, particularly of the Low Countries. It was taken to the West Indies with slavery and the sugar plantation.

Now it has returned to Europe, and many people come to watch from France, Germany and Holland. But if we are to involve the mass of young whites and blacks, we must bring more of a home-grown flavour to it. We should extend its range to incorporate Europe and its prolific designs in the world of costume.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 17 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Special Report - Lost souls in the city in the sky