The forthcoming elections for the next mayor of London will throw the black and Asian communities from the margins of electoral politics into a tornado of an intensity such as we have never experienced before.
The reason is quite simple. How we vote will decide who wins. For the purposes of the election, there are two Londons – inner London and outer London. Ken Livingstone sits comfortably atop the electoral perch in the former, while votes in the latter will be split three ways: between Livingstone, Boris Johnson (Conservative) and Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrat).
Note that I have omitted to describe Livingstone as Labour because he has long transcended that narrow political definition. Much, if not all, of his support from black and Asian people stems from his singular contribution to the anti-racist movement and much else. The battle is already joined to dislodge this mass support for Ken Livingstone, even though the election date is some four months away.
Leading the charge is the London Evening Standard, which I long ago renamed the Kensington and Chelsea Post. This paper is published by and for the upper classes, who resent that we in the immigrant communities hold the power to decide how they are governed. It is the old class struggle dressed up in new clothing.
I have been reading the Standard for more than 45 years, ever since I arrived in this country. I was once a columnist in those pages before being dumped unceremoniously by that arch-right-wing critic – the then editor of the paper, Max Hastings. Any reader of the Evening Standard is guided to believe, from the articles within its pages, that blacks and Asians in London are by and large either crazy Muslims or violent West Indians who undermine the high civilisation of white people.
What little subtlety there was left has been thrown overboard in the past few weeks. The paper launched the new year with a systematic campaign against Livingstone. I have never before, during all my time in the capital city, witnessed such a vicious and sustained campaign against a politician.
We know not what the next few months will bring, but we can be certain that this campaign will be one of the nastiest ever recorded in this country’s history. The very first volley aims to convince us that the mayor is guilty of vile corruption. Article upon article tells us that a handful of blacks, no more than a half-dozen or so, misappropriated “at least £3.3m” from the London Development Agency’s budget, which amounts to £300m. And that all of this group are friends of Ken Livingstone’s political adviser on race and policing, Lee Jasper. These matters are now with the police and the district auditor.
I have been correctly quoted in the Guardian newspaper on this issue: “I hold no brief for Lee Jasper. If [he] passed me on the street and said hello, I would not speak to him.” And I held this attitude long, long before there was ever a mayor for London.
Nor am I a follower of Livingstone, or any other politician or party. BBC Radio broadcast a documentary I made about 18 months ago, entitled Make Me Vote!. My position on the subject was qualified by the fact that I would only ever cast a vote for an individual. Ken is one of them; Diane Abbott and Keith Vaz are the others. Nothing the Evening Standard says will shift me from my view.
I remember those dark days of Thatcher’s rule, when members of our community hurled themselves against the barricades in a huge demand for equality. Ken stood firmly on our side. He continues to hold fast to this position.
And there is another reason why I will vote for Ken. I travel across London mainly by bus, train and the Tube. It costs me nothing. I wave my Freedom Pass with a certain panache. With this one stroke of policy, Ken has enhanced the dignity and mobility of London’s pensioners.