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  1. Politics
26 February 2008

Divide for Ken

An online petition to support the Mayor of London suggests he's in more trouble than I thought

By Martin Bright

Interesting to read the full text of the “Unite for Ken” letter that appeared in the Guardian earlier this week with 100 prominent signatories giving their support to the mayor. I have always thought Boris Johnson was a peculiar candidate for the Conservative Party to choose, but it seems that he really has got City Hall running scared. I must say I find it amusing that Livingstone, who stood against the Labour Party in 2000, is now the darling of tribalists within the party. There was a time when such treachery would not have been tolerated. The letter, sponsored by the think-tank Compass, is emblematic of the muddle-headed “lesser of two evils” argument that has bedevilled the left for so long.

One apocalyptic phrase I do agree with, however, is this: “This isn’t just about the politics of London but a battle between the forces of progress versus reaction in the nation as a whole”. For me, this is true whether Johnson or Livingstone wins. The progressive answer to this conundrum would be to find a genuinely progressive candidate to represent Labour.

I have argued in a documentary for Channel 4’s Dispatches, in the pages of the New Statesman and in the Evening Standard, that Livingstone’s rule of City Hall and the institution of mayor itself are deeply flawed. So I guess the following phrase could refer to me: “Perhaps most alarming of all we see writers and commentators who claim to be ‘on the left’ taking the fight to Livingstone in a way that will only result in a victory for Johnson and all that means for the poor and dispossessed of the Capital and the future politics of our country.”

It strikes me as somewhat defeatist of Livingstone’s supporters to suggest that the work of left-wing opponents of Livingstone like me “will” lead to Johnson’s victory. But, as I say, City Hall is clearly worried. It is also curious that the self-styled “progressives” make no mention of the Mayor’s opposition to the taxing of “non-doms” or his idiosyncratic approach to developers of high-rise buildings. That’s not to mention whether it is progressive to back a man who uses public money to smear prominent opponents such as Trevor Phillips, runs City Hall as a personal fiefdom with the help of unaccountable advisers on six-figure salaries. They do not examine how it is that a Labour Mayor finds it acceptable to welcome representatives of the Islamic extreme right such as Yusuf al-Qaradawiu to the capital. Nor do they mention how City Hall went on the attack against Atma Singh — a former adviser who refused to sign up to the Mayor’s policy of appeasement of radical Islam — by suggesting he was a threat to national security.

The investigative journalist and rich man’s nemesis Tom Bower gets it right for me in an article in today’s Daily Mail.

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It’s worth quoting Bower at length: “Livingstone has been accused of lying and protecting dishonest cronies employed by the Greater London Authority. At least £3 million has disappeared from the public purse and there are suspicions that much more money is unaccountable.
The well-documented allegations about sleaze in Livingstone’s headquarters are ignored by the apologists in the Left-wing liberal media. Instead, they describe Livingstone as the personification of ‘the ideals of democracy, equality and sustainability’.
The mayor who casually utters anti-Semitic jibes and publicly embraces Islamic extremists is hailed as ‘a standard-bearer for real progressive politics’. To Livingstone’s supporters, there are no contradictions between his slogans, sentiments and behaviour.
If any tinpot communist dictator promises ‘equality and fraternity’, the British Left will instinctively support them, turning a blind eye to the true suffering of the population.
In fighting the class war, whether in London about the mayoralty or in Westminster about the Speaker, the Left ignores the dishonesty of its leaders because the alternative is a Conservative government.”

The signatories of this letter should be ashamed of themselves. I am particularly disappointed that individuals committed to democratic renewal such as Baroness Helena Kennedy and Anthony Barnett, one of the founders of Charter 88, chose to sign up to the letter. But frankly anyone who has a progressive bone in their body should have run a mile.

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