Best for London

Without its current mayor, the capital would be a far less diverse and progressive city

London needs Ken Livingstone for many reasons. The first is that he is far and away the most qualified candidate. First elected to a local authority in 1971 (six years before Boris Johnson went to Eton), Ken has forgotten more about issues such as local government finance, transport economics and housing than most of us will ever know. And sheer volume of knowledge matters in a London mayor because they wield so much direct power (although, compared to the old Greater London Council, with a limited budget and a narrower range of legal powers).

A mayor without Livingstone's history would have found himself at the mercy of City Hall and Whitehall bureaucrats. Instead, his unsurpassed experience in local government helped give him the confidence to override officials and go for the congestion charge. His experience also enabled him to use his limited legal powers to maximum practical benefit for London. He has even persuaded government to increase his powers.

By contrast, Boris Johnson knows absolutely nothing, and cares even less, about local government. As for Brian Paddick, while he would make an excellent candidate for Metropolitan Police Commissioner, he knows almost nothing about issues such as local government finance.

Of the three white men standing for the three major parties, Livingstone is the one best placed to lead a city in which half the ethnic minorities of the entire country live and whose diversity is the foundation of its economic, social and cultural success. His commitment on race and diversity has been unswerving over a long career.

The leadership of all the major political parties now pay lip service to dialogue with Sinn Fein, race equality, feminism and gay rights. Yet much of the abuse that Livingstone received in the 1980s (and not just from the right) was precisely because of his stand on such issues.

And he has not just talked. He transformed the employment policies of the old GLC, opening up the top tiers of the council to women and black people and creating a cohort of senior officers, like Sir Herman Ouseley, who now occupy top positions in the public sector all over the country. The media sneered at the grants the GLC gave to black groups, but those grants empowered thousands of black Londoners and provided practical help to millions more.

The forceful leadership that Ken and others gave on race in the GLC era has ensured that London is at peace with its diversity, unlike many of our northern cities. In his first term as mayor, he introduced civil partnerships in London. Only then did the government find the courage to make such partnerships legal nationally. Would Boris Johnson have shown similar leadership? More recently, in the aftermath of the 7 July bombings in London, Ken's leadership helped to avert an anti-Muslim backlash. The idea of Boris Johnson (who is tone-deaf on race matters) in the same situation is alarming.

Some have tried to trash Ken's reputation on race and other matters, depicting the black-led voluntary sector as a cesspool of corruption. In the 1980s, the London Evening Standard (and its sister paper the Daily Mail) attacked him relentlessly on race equality, gay rights and feminism. Now they realise that, in London at least, the left has won the debate on those issues and are reduced to the politics of personal destruction.

One day a Barack Obama-style figure will blaze across London's firmament. Then it will be time to consider London after Ken. In the meantime the city needs him and his strong commitment on race and diversity. He brings experience none of the other candidates can match and results they could never have achieved.

When Livingstone stood for mayor as an in dependent he took on the new Labour machine at its most brutal and defeated it. It is 27 years since he emerged from the pack of London left young guns and seized leadership of the GLC.

He remains one of the best politicians of his generation.

Diane Abbott is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and shadow secretary of state for health. 

This article first appeared in the 31 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Is Boris a fake?

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times