Ken Livingstone addresses the Labour conference in 2011 in Liverpool. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ken Livingstone interview: Boris hasn't set a right-wing agenda - he hasn't done anything

Former Mayor of London describes his old foe as "a fairly lazy tosser who just wants to be there".

Will he or won't he? For the past week, the media and the Tories have been transfixed by the question of whether Boris Johnson will stand for parliament at the next election. But one person who doesn't think it would make any difference is Ken Livingstone. He tells me in an interview in this week's NS: "It's no problem Boris being an MP and mayor because he doesn't do the mayor's job anyhow, so we won't notice the difference."

On Boris: "a fairly lazy tosser who just wants to be there"

Livingstone adds that the biggest mistake he made about his opponent was assuming that he had a grand plan to tilt London to the right. He says:

On the weekend he announced that he was going to run, myself and all my key advisers read 10 years of Telegraph and Spectator articles. The following Monday we just said ‘My god, this is the most hardline right-wing ideologue since Thatcher.’

My sense was that as soon as he’d won the election, he’d completely recast City Hall and set a whole new agenda. But he hasn’t really done anything. He’s stopped all projects that weren’t committed except the bike scheme. Except for the cable car to nowhere, he hasn’t initiated any new ones. He hasn’t set a right-wing agenda.

Those right-wing Tories who think he’s going to be the answer will be acutely disappointed. If he did ever become prime minister, the country would just drift. For Boris, it’s just about being there, not what you do with it.

His advice to Labour, which he believes will face Johnson as leader of the opposition, is "not to make the mistake of assuming they’re dealing with a hardline right-wing ideologue" but rather “to concentrate on the fact they’re dealing with a fairly lazy tosser who just wants to be there.”

Tory anger at Boris "working from home on Fridays"

He also reveals that disgruntled Tories on the London Assembly have told him of their anger at Boris's plan to start "working from home on Fridays" (a claim rejected by the Mayor's office). 

What I find interesting is that almost all the dirt I get on Boris comes from the Tory members on the Assembly. They’re really angry because he’s decided he’s going to start working from home on Fridays.

In a wonderful irony, it was Johnson who attacked ministers’ advice to Londoners to stay away from their workplaces during the Olympics (in order to reduce congestion) as a “skiver’s paradise”, declaring that “Some people will see the Games as an opportunity to work from home, in inverted commas. We all know that is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again. I don’t want to see too many of us doing that.”

Nor was this mere flippancy from the mayor. He added that working from home was "greatly overrated" and that "In my opinion people need to get in. They need to meet each other and they need to exchange ideas in an office environment."

Livingstone adds: "The Telegraph had a picture of him standing in front of his desk after his fifth anniversary of being mayor, my shock was that he hadn’t moved a single thing. The desk was exactly as I left it the day I walked out, he hadn’t even moved the pot I kept my pens and pencils in. Everything was the same. It just suggested to me that, while Boris blusters in, it’s the minions who are keeping things ticking over. The deputies won’t set a new agenda, that’s the mayor’s job. If the mayor won’t do it, nothing happens."

Labour has "lost the argument on debt" - and should use QE for infrastructure

Ken is effusive in his praise for Ed Miliband, telling me that he could be a transformative prime minister to rank alongside Attlee and Thatcher.

He says:

I’ve had to deal with every Labour leader since Wilson and there only two I would trust with my life in their hands, and that’s John Smith and Ed Miliband.

When you actually look at every other Labour leader, and even Alex Salmond, they spend all their time courting Murdoch, and for a politician to stand up to Murdoch is a clear indication of strength of character, given what he might incur. He overrode all the weak-hearted around him on the energy price freeze. And in saying no to the Syrian adventure...you’ve got to go back to 1956 for an opposition leader, or a Labour leader, to oppose that sort of foreign intervention. Those are all good signs.

I spent quite a lot of time with him in the first few years of his leadership, because I was the candidate for Mayor, and I was very impressed. He really didn’t give a sod about the personality side of politics, he was always just focused on where he wanted to take the country.

But he warns that Labour has “lost the argument about debt” and that “there’s no point in trying to win it now”. Instead, he urges Miliband to fund higher infrastructure spending through a new dose of quantitative easing.

"It’s quite easy for Labour to construct an entire five-year programme without an additional penny of borrowing. The Bank of England has created £375bn to prop up the financial system, and it was right to do so...So equally, you could create £375bn for infrastructure."

Livingstone suggests that QE could fund a mass housebuilding programme, HS2, Crossrail 2 and the expansion of broadband. “You’d create well over a million jobs, put people back to work, get the benefits bill down, and there wouldn’t be a penny of debt because all assets are held by the bank.” He warns, however, that “Labour would need to win the election with a clear commitment because my guess would be that the Bank of England, while quite happy to create billions to save the financial system, wouldn’t be so interested in building homes for rent.”

On Labour's next London mayoral candidate: "I know of 10 people thinking of running"

Livingstone wisely declined to endorse a candidate for the Labour London mayoral nomination but revealed that he knows of "10 people thinking of running". He added: "Some of them, like Tessa [Jowell], going back 40 years, so I’m going to keep completely out of it. There is no one seeking the Labour nomination who I think shouldn’t get it and if I endorse any one candidate and Labour selects somebody else, it’ll be 'oh, Ken didn’t support me.'"

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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