Should Labour let Livingstone back in?

Submitted by on 22 July, 2002 - 11:02

In an article not entirely sympathetic to Ken Livingstone, Annie O'Keefe argues that Livingstone should be let back into Labour Party membership, as despite his faults, this could represent an important defeat for the hard Blairites; and that socialists, even those of the Socialist Alliance, should not entirely neglect Labour.
Should socialists back Ken Livingstone's attempt to get himself
reinstated in the Labour Party?

Livingstone was expelled from the Party two years ago for standing against the official Labour candidate in the election for Mayor of London. Under the Labour Party's rules Livingstone, can't be allowed back into the party for five years.

Livingstone won the election and is now the popular Mayor of London. A popular, but not in any sense a left-wing mayor. Livingstone long ago ceased to be left-wing.
Asked what he thought about the recent action of a militant art critic who had knocked the head off the new statue of Margaret Thatcher in the Guildhall, he denounced it as a piece of mindless vandalism. This is typical of Livingstone now.

All right, maybe knocking the atrocity's head off its shoulders with a blow from a hammer wasn't a good idea. Livingstone wasn't obliged to endorse that.

But he didn't have to sound like a mildly sedated writer of Sun editorials either. He knows very well why Thatcher is loathed by so many people.

Last April Livingstone added his voice to the press and police campaign to drum up hysteria about the upcoming May Day demonstration and prepare "public opinion" to accept whatever violence or mass illegal detention the police would decided to use against the demonstrators.

This year too, they surrounded peaceful marchers and imprisoned them in certain London streets for some hours. (Last year, over a thousand people were held like that for nine hours in Oxford Circus, surrounded by an army of armoured police).
Livingstone defend civil liberties? No - help the police and that other one-time left-wing local government leader, the authoritarian-minded Home Secretary, David Blunkett! That too is typical.

So, Livingstone opposes privatisation of London Underground. That is good, but there is nothing especially left-wing about it. It is also the position, on grounds of safety and efficiency, of many Liberals, Tories and even of some Blairites.

Nonetheless, socialists should support the campaign to give Livingstone back his Labour Party membership card. The trade union representatives on the Labour Party National Executive back Livingstone's reinstatement.

That means that with the three NEC members of the "Grassroots Alliance" also supporting Livingstone, nearly half of the NEC wants to let him back in. A small additional shift and the hard Blairites will be defeated. If he is reinstated
against the will of the party establishment that will loosen their bureaucratic grip on the party.

An NEC vote for Livingstone would be a late but important judgement on the bureaucratic carve-up used to select the official Labour candidate for Mayor of London. That led Livingstone to break with Labour.

Socialists of the Socialist Alliance know that the Blairite Labour Party has to be challenged openly from outside, and we challenge it in elections. The Socialist Alliance may stand against Livingstone whether he is the Labour Party or an independent candidate, in the next London Mayoral election.

Even so, we should not entirely neglect the Labour Party. All the internal channels of Labour Party democracy are cemented over. But the affiliated unions could in the Labour Party do a lot to shake up the Blairites - if they wanted to.

If the left in the unions put forward a candidate to stand against the Labour Party as London Mayor, and Livingstone stood for the Labour Party, socialists would of course back that candidate, not Ken Livingstone.

What was the slogan of the Chirac-backing soft left in the French General Election?
"Vote for the crook, not the fascist!" Back the pattern-breaking self-serving maverick, ex-socialist, Livingstone, not the Blairite authoritarians!

Let Livingstone take his natural place with those ex-socialist turncoats in New Labour who sustain Tony Blair.

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