How goes the War On Ken?

7:01 pm - January 26th 2008

by Dave Hill    

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No surprises in the Evening Boris yesterday – just the usual three pages devoted to demonstrating that Ken Livingstone is a turd. Boris Gilligan reported that Brenda Stern, the former LDA manager, is threatening to sue over what Livingstone said about her on the Today programme on Thursday. Boris Dovkants wrote an unflattering spread about Rosemary Emodi, the Livingstone aide (and Lee Jasper’s deputy) who got caught in a lie about how a flight to Nigeria was paid for.

Meanwhile at New Statesman and at Comment Is Free Martin Bright has been insisting that his Dispatches programme has been vindicated by Livingstone’s own words since its broadcast. And at The Times, Camilla Cavendish – I wonder which inner city comp she went to – likened Livingstone to “the dictator of a small third world country.” The London Mayor himself has decamped to Davos where he’s found time to blog a broadside in his own defence. It’s been a bruising week for him. But how badly damaged is he? And where do the week’s hostilities leave the state of the mayoral race?

In his Cif article Martin reckons to have Livingstone bang to rights over advisors conducting political campaigns at tax-payers’ expense and that “support within the Labour party is draining away.” I’d say he’s not far wrong in the first case and that in the second the picture isn’t quite so clear. “There is concern within the London Labour party about many of the issues raised by the documentary,” he writes. So be it. Yet a bunch of Labour MPs have signed a letter to the Guardian supporting Ken. “Many activists who tramped the streets of London for Frank Dobson in 2000 have yet to forgive Livingstone,” says Martin. But how many?

I could name an old friend of his who was so disgusted by a barely coded letter sent by Tony Blair to her and all other party members when he was desperate to have Dobson rather than Livingstone nominated as mayoral candidate that she resigned from the party the same day. Plenty of grassroots Labour people regard Livingstone as a beacon of progressive principle. There may be many more who, like Hackney Labour councillor Luke Akehurst, are rallying round their candidate in his time of need despite differences with him in the past. However much some Labourites may dislike Ken Livingstone, you can bet they dislike the Evening Boris even more.

And then there are the voters. On Wednesday morning I took a bendy bus from Deepest Hackney to the Guardian office to discuss coverage of the London mayor campaign. In transit I disclosed this to my mother on the phone. When I’d finished speaking to her a woman who’d been sitting directly in front of me got up and took the seat adjoining mine. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “But I couldn’t help eavesdropping.” As we went down Essex Road she told her tale. An educationist, she feared that additional funding supplied by Livingstone for students she was concerned with would end if Boris Johnson displaced him.

Such people and such issues have been totally neglected by most journalists so far. In so doing, they neglect the existence of large numbers of Londoners who believe they have something to thank Ken Livingstone for. They also forget too easily that such gratitude goes beyond the provision of recent grants. It goes back, way back, to a time when ethnic minority and other groups felt daily menaced in the capital and Livingstone was the only prominent politician to stick up for them. Darcus Howe as good as says he wouldn’t piss on Lee Jasper if he was on fire. But he’s still going to vote Ken. “Much, if not all, of his support from black and Asian people stems from his singular contribution to the anti-racist movement and much else. The battle is already joined to dislodge this mass support.”

The point is well made. Boris Dovkants’s article about Emodi sweatily insinuates that her rise and fall illustrate that Livingstone’s popularity among BME voters is misplaced. Other elements of the coalition from which Livingstone has long drawn support are also being invited to consider if he still deserves their backing. Peter Tatchell’s contribution to Dispatches will have been significant for gays and others animated by gender issues. Leftish voters in general are urged by Martin, Boris Cohen and others to consider if they really want to support a candidate who holds hands with Islamists and abuses his power.

All of these factors, valid and venal alike, pose a threat to Livingstone. And yet, like the bookies, I still expect him to prevail on 1st May. For one thing, his most dedicated enemies underestimate the extent to which their motives and actions may be regarded by voters as more tainted than the politican they so loathe. For another, Boris Johnson has to prove himself a fit potential successor to the man who for many still embodies the best things about London. I rest my case.

P.S. And, lo, there came an opinion poll!
* Cross-posted from London: Mayor & More.

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About the author
Dave Hill is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a novelist, blogger, journalist, married resident of Hackney in east London and father of six children. His novels are about family life. Also at: Comment is free.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Race relations ,Westminster

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Reader comments

Yes, there’s quite a lot to thank Livingstone for. But I, as a lifelong campaigner for gay rights, will never forgive him for publicly chumming up with a medieval religious bigot like Quradawi, whom the Mayor grotesquely – or maybe not grotesquely – describes as a ‘moderate’ Muslim. Thanks very much, Ken. I suppose all those lovely new tall buildings which have altered the capital’s skyline during your terms of office will come in handy when the time arrives for us to be flung off them.

Camilla Cavendish is a trustee of… Policy Exchange, which just so happens to be very chummy with Martin Bright.

I love London politics.

I hate the E’nin Stannah and their attempts to undermine KL are laughable…especially set against his own. BUT…

We all have to face it, Ken is a turd.

4. dreamingspire

Has nobody a word for Brian Paddick?

5. Chris Baldwin

Ken Livingstone may not be a beacon of purity, but who on earth is? Tony Blair held hands with the Saudi Arabian government and I voted for him . If I lived in London I’d vote for Livingstone without giving it a second thought, even if the Tory were someone far better than that reactionary Johnson.

spire….I will be voting for Paddick. I like his stance on most issues and Ken needs a kick up the backside.

The interesting thing is that the new opinion poll, to which I link in my P.S., shows that Livingstone’s lead over Johnson has actually increased since the Dispatches programme went out. This may be firm evidence that Livingstone’s long-term supporters and Labour loyalists are rallying around him in spite of – or maybe because of – the concerted media campaigning against him. It will interesting to see what happens next.

Septicisle: Thank you for that information. It explains a lot.

Thomas and dreamingspire: So far Paddick has talked mostly about crime, which is fair enough given that he is a former senior Met officer and that crime is Londoners’ top priority (along with transport). As a when he sets out more of policies I intend to have a good look at them.

As Sunny points out above Yusuf al-Qaradawi is back in the news again, which may have implications for Livingstone.

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