Show Hide image

Questions for Ken

Pop, politics, and what he’d do with his hour on the plinth – New Statesman readers ask, Ken Livings

Philip Sinden

Should the police trust the public?
Bill Ford

Yes, and vice versa. The Met is a much-changed police force, compared to the way it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Having police on the beat in every neighbourhood in London breaks down barriers. It improves communication, reduces crime and helps the police understand what's going on in neighbourhoods. There is a lot more to do, but progress has been made.

What advice do you have for young people who want to engage with politics and fight the recession?
Noel Hatch, national chair, Compass Youth

Join a political party so that politicians find it harder to ignore you. Argue with your friends that doing nothing is not an option and get them involved. And cause as much trouble as you can.

Why are you getting married at London Zoo?
James Beveridge

It's great for the kids and it will be poignant for me. I applied for a job there in 1962 and they turned me down - although they did later have me as vice-president of the Zoological Society.

What three things would you do to improve allotment provision in London?
Becky Hogge

One, set aside space in the Olympic Park; two, ban development on allotment land; and three, introduce a London-wide, cross-borough waiting list.

At what stage did you know that Gordon Brown was going to lose the next election?
Peter Bingle

Curiously enough, I think the Tory domination of the polls makes it theirs to lose. They should be treated as the incumbent and subjected to relentless scrutiny. Tory economic policy is so hardline that it has the potential to unite very large layers of society in opposition. If Cameron wins, we may be in for a period of revolving-door government like the 1960s and 1970s.

For which musicians would you dust down your microphone to make a record with, as you did with Blur in 1995?
Jenny Simmons

This answer is based on the fantasy that I have a decent singing voice, which anyone who has seen me do karaoke knows is far from reality. I would work with Blur again, who are both a great band and really good people. And I'd love to duet with Scott Walker.

How do you keep any political optimism, after being pipped to the post by Buffoon Boris?
Miranda Merry

You have to keep things in proportion. It's tough, but nothing compared to a fascist coup.

Do you prefer amphibians to people?
Dan Whitmarsh

No, but many of them are dying out, so you've got to help them.

Since leaving office, what are the three best books, best films and best pieces of music you've enjoyed?
Jon Cruddas MP

Books: Alastair Campbell's The Blair Years; Peter Oborne's The Triumph of the Political Class; and Matter by Iain M Banks.

Films: Lust, Caution; Milk; and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Two songs - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and kd lang's version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". And third, everything that the Simón Bolívar youth orchestra of Venezuela played when I saw them at the Royal Festival Hall.

What can be done to combat the far right?
Afzal Shaikh

In London we reduced racist attacks by over half during my two terms. This was part of a culture of opposing racism by setting out the threat posed by a narrow-minded, bigoted view of the world and celebrating the wealth of London's cultures. Britain is one society with many cultures, but that must be restated and defended repeatedly. It is the best way to isolate the BNP. No inch should be given to their racism by mainstream parties or the media, and we need to involve the people at the sharp end of their racism and prejudice much more directly.

What would you do with your hour on the fourth plinth?
Sarah Middleton

Bang on about climate change. We should take every opportunity to get the message across.

The representation of women at the GLA has declined rapidly under the new mayor. How would you counteract this problem?
Helen Gardner

I recommend supporting Harriet Harman's Equality Bill and voting for a new mayor in 2012.

What makes you think you can win the next mayoral election - isn't it time to pass the mantle to somebody else?
Alex Smith

My view is that if another candidate cannot beat me in the selection, they are unlikely to beat Boris Johnson in the election.

Do you believe the UK should maintain its own seat at the UN Security Council?
Charles Kennedy MP

The Security Council is an anachronism based on the outcome of the Second World War and the cold war. It makes no sense that a society such as India is not a member. I think we will one day have to give up our seat - the best outcome is that Europe should have a common defence and foreign policy and be represented as one great continental player in global politics.

What's your verdict on Obama's first year?
Simon Thomas

He needs to be bolder and take the fight to the Republicans, who have gone into full opposition mode. He needs to make sure that US citizens realise just how much of a threat to US interests the Senate has become: the over-representation of less populated states and the ability to filibuster make it too beholden to a minority.

Why didn't you identify a left-wing successor rather than run for mayor a third time?
James Cave

Because I only feel 40 inside.

Is there anything you think Boris is doing better than you?
Tom Daniels

Yes, falling in the river.

This article appears in the 21 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Citizen Ken