Preview: Ken Livingstone:"The world is run by monsters"

Our exclusive interview with the Labour challenger, in tomorrow's magazine.

Our exclusive interview with the Labour challenger, in tomorrow's magazine.{C}

boris ken

Click here to read extracts from Jemima Khan's interview with Boris Johnson

For this week's issue of the New Statesman (on newsstands tomorrow), Jemima Khan interviewed -- on the same day -- both of the leading contenders for the 2012 London mayoral election: the incumbent, Boris Johnson, and the inaugural mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Here are some edited from Khan's breakfast with the Labour challenger.

Ken on Boris:

I think he has real ability, real intelligence, and he just never achieves his potential with it. It is why I think in the end he won't be prime minister . . . I don't think he has really got a solid ideological brain, like [George] Osborne or [William] Hague. It is very hard to find anything in Boris's career that he's serious about. He just loves life too much to really succeed as a politician.

Ken on Thatcher:

Clinically insane.

I am not going to watch it [The Iron Lady]. I do not want to feel sympathy for her. I feel sympathy for the people whose lives she destroyed.

Ken on bankers' bonuses:

In the time I was mayor, I used to do meetings with City bankers and I'd often open by saying, 'This isn't the world I would have created . . .' [Bankers' bonuses are] like penis extensions, among a small league of men - mine is bigger than yours.

. . . The world is run by monsters and you have to deal with them. Some of them run countries, some of them run banks, some of them run news corporations.

Ken on his private life:

We [Boris and I] both have five [children]. I can admit to all mine.

[The public] should be allowed to know everything, except the nature of private relationships - unless there is hypocrisy, like some Tory MP denouncing homosexuality while they are indulging in it.

Pressed by Khan about his use of "Tory MP", Ken responds:

Well, the Labour ones have all come out . . . As soon as Blair got in, if you came out as lesbian or gay you immediately got a job. It was wonderful . . . you just knew the Tory party was riddled with it like everywhere else is.

Ken on News International:

When Murdoch smashed the [print] union I refused to be interviewed by any Murdoch [paper] out there for - let me think, for five years, and then when I realised his empire didn't collapse with my boycott, I recognised I had to give in and go and be interviewed by them.

Ken on what he will do if he wins:

We will restore the 1,700 police jobs that have been lost. We spent all day yesterday locked in a room going through the police budget . . . We have only made two specific pledges - to cut fares, we know we can do it; and to restore police cuts, we know we can do it. The other thing will be cutting top salaries and using the money to give above-inflation pay increases to the lowest-paid.

Ken Livingstone quick-fire questions

How important is it to be liked?
It is nice, but I would rather do what is right than be liked.

Your idea of perfect happiness?
I suppose it's on a beach with a pina colada. Very cheap and tacky.

Your greatest fear?
That humanity is virtually extinct by the end of the century. It's a very real risk with climate change.

Which living person do you most admire?
Living person? I can only admire people who I have never met and are dead - because you know so much about anyone who is alive. The people I really most admire are Robert Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. If you know someone, it is very hard to revere them. I mean, how many people revere me, for God's sake?

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I don't work hard enough. If I had worked harder I might have been prime minister.

What's the trait you most deplore in others?
A love of Boris.

On what occasions do you lie and when did you last lie?
I think I have gone through my entire public career never telling a lie. I have made mistakes but I never knowingly lied. In your private life you do [lie], because you don't want to hurt people's feelings and all that and also you want to protect yourself.

Which living person do you most despise?
There are so many members of the government I could say that about, but I might have to deal with them in a hundred days' time, so I really shouldn't.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I am not going to answer that.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
My voice. I would like to sound like James Mason. I reckon if I'd had a better voice I could have been prime minister. It is the most irritating voice in public life.

What is your motto?
I don't believe in any of that nonsense. Get up and work.

When did you last cry?
Oh, whatever silly thing I watched on TV. I can easily lose myself emotionally in absolute Hollywood garbage.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
When I was at the GLC and we only had a majority of four, the Tories always demanded special sessions, hoping to catch us out. They had a legal power to demand a special session, but I had the legal power to say when it would be - and I always called it on Friday afternoon because a handful of the Tories went to their country estate for the weekend. And then I was reading Suetonius's Twelve Caesars and [Julius Caesar] did exactly the same thing. He convened the senate on Friday afternoons. That is the only thing I can say identifies Julius Caesar with me - we chose the same squalid tactic.

What is your greatest boast?
That I am still here after 30 years of unremitting media hostility.

Click here to read extracts from Jemima Khan's interview with Boris Johnson

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.