The knives are out for Ken Livingstone. He is targetted by the main London paper, the Evening Standard. He is the subject of a sustained smear campaign — he’s a drunk, a secret “Trotskyite”.
Some of his advisors run a careerist mafia, which for god knows what reason calls itself Socialist Action. We in Solidarity are no friends of Livingstone, but a lot of this is like the Tory candidate of whose election campaign this assault is meant to serve — ridiculous!
Now Channel Four has done a hatchet job on the future Lord Ken of Newt Hall.
But “The Court of Ken”, Martin Bright’s Dispatches film on Ken Livingstone (Monday 21 January) was very disappointing, lacking both perspective and coherence.
Based largely on the testimony of former GLA employee Atma Singh and other former associates like Marc Wadsworth, the programme “revealed” that Livingstone employs John Ross, Simon Fletcher, Mark Watts and Redmond O’Neill and other members of Socialist Action as a “coterie of unaccountable advisers” on £120,000+ salaries a year.
Singh, himself a former Socialist Action member, “revealed” that until 2000 they used to meet in the Cedar Room pub in Islington and used a printer’s shop in Hackney. All of this is well-known — and rather misses what should be the political target — what Livingstone and his friends have been doing for/to workers while running London, why they should get these inflated sums etc.
All the red-baiting, with wild claims that the ex-Trots are bent on introducing “city-state” socialism in London (under the noses of the bourgeoisie across the water from City Hall!), is frankly laughable given their pro-business record in power for eight years.
The programme contained nothing on Livingstone’s climbdown on rail privatisation — which was the central question on which he was elected in 2000. It said nothing on the privatisation of the East London line or indeed on his relationship in general to big business in the capital, never mind on his shameful attitude toward rail workers taking strike action.
The “hard-left conspiracy” story, as well as the not-very-secret disclosure that Livingstone drinks whisky during work time, also obscures the more substantial points made in the film about Livingstone’s use of public money.
The programme stated that Livingstone spends a lot of money on foreign trips and cultivating relations with overseas states like China, Cuba and Venezuela, including three-quarters of a million travelling business class and staying in posh hotels in India.
The London Development Agency, “Ken’s Piggy Bank” spends, nearly £600m on sustainable development and regeneration. Between 2003 and 2006 it gave £1.8m to organisations that then liquidated or failed to file accounts.
The programme claims that half the revenue from the congestion charge is spent on operating costs, and so there is much less left available for improving public transport. On top of that, apparently cars and buses are slower than before, despite 15% less traffic.
Livingstone apparently spent £23m on advertising and PR as well as £31,000 on a report on Islamophobia in the media, and more on promoting some very unpleasant people such as Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He also spent £14,000 on research by another Socialist Action member, Ann Kane, which was used to attack Trevor Phillips’ record during his bid to become chair of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights.
However the problem here is more the politics promoted by Livingstone rather than spending money on reports.
The most serious legal allegation made by programme was that in the 2004 election, GLA civil servants (such as Singh) were asked to work for Livingstone’s campaign, by writing articles, raising money and organising supporters.
All these matters are important for the labour movement. We should call for a workers’ enquiry into the allegations. Open the books!
For us there is also the bigger picture. For Bright and others on the neo-con left/ex-left, Livingstone is a disappointment, someone who once brought hope but has since gone wrong. For us, Livingstone has always been a venal careerist and these allegations come as no surprise.
But in the forthcoming mayoral election the choice will unfortunately most likely between Livingstone, warts and all, and Tory buffoon Boris Johnson. This film, lacking any kind of positive, coherent alternative, largely ends up feeding the right.