If Ken stands for Mayor, the left is in deep trouble


10:28 am - July 24th 2008

by Sunny Hundal    


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Sunder Katwala’s cautious note on Ken’s desire to run for London Mayor again doesn’t go far enough. I think it will be a disaster for the left (but not the Libdems).

In an article for CIF just before the mayoral elections I said this:

Even if Ken Livingstone loses on May 1, it cannot be denied that he stood firm in the face of media and New Labour hostility and pushed through an agenda that will continue to shape London for decades to come. He did so by realising that the rules that applied to other parts of England didn’t apply in London. He stared down Paul Dacre and went ahead with his leftist policies. Even Gordon Brown can’t claim that. And that’s probably why, despite all his faults, I will vote for Ken Livingstone.

So I realise what he symbolises for the left. Granted, as Sunder pointed out, he has name recognition and will be a popular choice among many. But I think he will lose us the election and we need to think this through with our heads not hearts.

Let me state from the outset that I’ve been thinking of getting rid of Boris from the day he was elected. I don’t intend to wait until Labour gets its selection process started – I’m planning for it now (will come back to this later).

There are various reasons why Ken running again is a bad idea:

1) It indicates the left has run out of talent / ideas.
Let’s be brutally honest here – if Ken is the only guy we can think of after decades then we’re not developing any real upcoming talent or ideas. This is a problem in itself. Ken himself had run out of fresh thinking by the end of his post – sometimes borrowing Boris’s ideas and at other times being held hostage by the Greens to push through a greener agenda. Is there no one on the left who has fresh ideas for London? Really?

2) The narrative against Ken is already in place and reinforced every day
It was hammered constantly against Ken until it defined his candidacy in the eyes of many, whether we like it or not. Boris was the change candidate, Ken the guy who was tired and been around for too long. Ken was, and still is now, defined as wasteful and nepotistic. Boris is too, of course, but that charge won’t stick yet. You can argue Ken’s supporters didn’t challenge this strongly enough, but then you can also argue Ken didn’t take these charges seriously enough (Lee Jasper anyone?) until it was too late. Sometimes its best to cut your liabilities.

In 2014 2012 Andrew Gilligan and the right-wing press will only have to keep hammering these points rather than have to create them from scratch. And they’re doing this now, every day, by saying he’s “creepy” or “obsessive” by hanging around the GLA. Whether we like it or not, the voting public is influenced by these narratives; they need to be taken into account.

3) He will tear Labour apart further
By 2014 2012 Labour will be in deep dire straits, fighting a big internal battle over its future direction. The upper hierarchy will want their own clone in place (ala Alan Sugar) while the grassroots will be stuck with having to defend Ken and therefore take a confrontational approach with the leadership. This battle will no doubt ensure that one side’s support will be muted whoever gets picked. That candidate will hence lose. This is why we need a compromise candidate.

4) Are the grassroots really that supportive? Sunder says they are, but I think its more that Labour loyalists will prefer him over anyone Brown puts forward, and for sentimental / emotional reasons not want to publicly oppose his candidacy. Given the right candidate, that support could drain away quickly.

Getting rid of Boris
Getting rid of Boris would be harder if Ken were picked the main opposition candidate for the reasons mentioned above.

First, we need to constantly highlight Boris’s failings as Mayor and use them to define his candidacy. For exactly the reasons I opposed him, this task has been fairly easy so far. And thanks to the incisive work by Tory Troll, Dave Hill and BorisWatch, this will continue. If Ken runs, then it’ll be easier for the right to make Boris look good against Ken’s record.

Secondly, we need a ground operation to get out the vote against Boris. I’m serious folks – come 4 years time I would like to see us raising funding and organising people to support alternative candidates much more proactively. We will also need to build coalitions with grassroots groups to make this a London-wide operation.

Thirdly, we need to think a bit forward here. Following a predicted disaster at the next General Election, Labour will be in huge internal turmoil. That means the London Mayoral election will have huge symbolic impact on the future direction of the party. The left need a candidate who can take the party in a new direction and set the tone for a Labour revival if possible, rather than flounder in fighting age-old battles.

If Ken has the interests of the left at heart, as I believe he does, he should support the right candidate and help them win the election. He would brilliant as a surrogate supporter rather the main candidate himself.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Erm, don’t you mean 2012?

I don’t think I could agree more.

I think there’s a real prospect that Boris will be – if not a disaster – certainly hugely controversial in the way that Ken was: without necessarily being loved.

A non-clownish candidate of substance would represent a powerful challenge to Boris. That can’t be Ken.

But I think he will lose us the election and we need to think this through with our heads not hearts.

Us? You joined the Labour party?! 😀

cjcj – well spotted. That’s what happens when you write articles late at night. I’ve changed it now.

Leon – for the non-aligned left, not the Labour party. I’m not a member.

I like the fact that you thought Labour would be “in deep dire straits, fighting a big internal battle over its future direction” in 2014!

That is a full four years after the next election. Just how f***ed do you think Labour are?!?

Also, the final sentence of this article makes no sense. “He would brilliant as a surrogate supporter rather”.

You really did write this late at night, didn’t you 😉

Oh whoops, that seems to be an editing error, i was switching between versions.

I’m serious folks – come 4 years time I would like to see us raising funding and organising people to support alternative candidates much more proactively.

You sound like a new group needs to be created…Phoenix like….

Sunny, Ken polled nearly 20% ahead of Labour nationally, increased his number of votes by over 200,000, had by far the best policies the Left have ever offered and Labour have no-one else with his popularity or abilities, yet you still want to ditch him. What we should be doing is ditching the clown in no 10, not people like Ken who do have a radical popular Left agenda. After 4 years of Boris and 2 years of Cameron, Ken will walk it, which is why the Tories and Lib Dems want to ban him from standing. They are sh** scared of him.

Yes, the Daily Moan et al did a fantastic hatchet job on him – but is that really a reason for the Left to capitulate? Should we have gone along with the Zinoviev letter in 1926 cos the Daily Hate said it was true? Should we have supported Hitler because the Daily Heil said so? No, we should have the guts to stand up for what we really believe in, we will not get anywhere by ditching our principles. I believe Labour could have won in 1997 even if we’d have brought back Michael Foot, so hated were the Tories, Blair gave us 13 years but in failing to honour pledges on fairer taxation, restoring local democracy and fair votes for Westminster we wasted golden opportunities for real change, he has also doomed us to more Thatcherite government that the majority will vote against to no avail.

Sunny, Ken polled nearly 20% ahead of Labour nationally, increased his number of votes by over 200,000, had by far the best policies the Left have ever offered and Labour have no-one else with his popularity or abilities, yet you still want to ditch him.

Hi Neil, this analysis doesn’t convince me.

There is a strong anti-Ken voting contingent that will come out once again if Ken runs as the main candidate. This is why the turnout was higher – each candidate had their haters, Ken just more than Boris. What makes you think the anti-Ken contingent will be any less?

Furthermore, after four years of Boris, some people might think he’s bad, but not as bad as Ken. Which is why we need a fresh new candidate who can look much better against Boris when we highlight his failings.

Ken polled more in London than last time because the vote was close. He polled more than Labour because right now you can put a donkey against a Labour candidate and still win. Ken had sufficient distance from Brown to not to be tarred by the same brush.

And lastly, there is a strong body of voters who may have backed Ken last time but will want someone fresh next time. As I said above – it is a sad indictment of the left if, after all these years, we still can’t think of a good candidate who isn’t too New Labour. If that truly were the case, then the left is fucked.

“had by far the best policies the Left have ever offered ”

So does the fact he, y’know, *lost*, say more about his policies, or the Left in general?

12. Barry Rochford

It’s not whether Ken will stand – it’s what is being done to stop him and why. Why is the Labour right promoting the idea of Alan Sugar? It doesn’t seem to me that it is the left who are short of ideas.
2012 is a long way ahead and will probably be two years into a Tory government. Will Labour have made any recovery by then?
More important for London, many disadvantaged people will have realised what they have lost because of Boris and the suburban Tories are likely to consider that Boris hasn’t particularly helped them. Boris’s strategy for transport and planning will have worked its way through and the lack of investment in London because of Boris’s only policy – make cuts will be there for all to see.
It is not likely that environmentalists will have thought too much of Boris and all the memories will be recalling progress made under Ken.
A percentage of Ken’s defeat was due to the scandals stirred up by the Standard, above all. Now the truth is getting out. Lee Jasper was cleared of breaking any rules by the 80% Tory party members’ ‘forensic team’. Even his enemies found nothing wrong. The police investigations have found nothing to be true.
Why on earth do you think that after four years people will think Boris is not as bad as Ken? All the signs are that it is Boris who has lost his way and after double quick time. (Opponents of Boris couldn’t have dreamt up a worse start).
You can try the ‘tired old Ken’ approach, but it’s not going to be about personalities next time – Boris won’t be able to dodge the policy issues that he has lied about till now.

13. wilhelmina

Sunny
your arguments sound so desperate
let us start with policies, and who understands, is committed to and will deliver them
whether on diversity, the environment, transport, minimum wage, international peace and justice- Ken is way ahead of all, inspires hundreds of thousands of Londoners 9as well as many more across the country who envy who we had as mayor), and one of the only politicians there is with popular support and respect- ok..if not by all

Boris won on the anti-labour populist ‘character’ spectrum of politics- he will have lost all of that by the next election- and people will want a safe competant, visionary pair of hands-step forward anyone else i agree- show your colours!- but my money is on Ken

finally i do not think the any one genuinely on the left is desperate to find some one new when we already have the lefts most winnable candidate in any election for decades- he is the leader Labour needs but will never allow despite its members and the country- that is the subjective crime of this period- and you just try desperately to justify it Sunny
sad, wrong and harmful to the left i believe

Barry:
It’s not whether Ken will stand – it’s what is being done to stop him and why. Why is the Labour right promoting the idea of Alan Sugar? It doesn’t seem to me that it is the left who are short of ideas.

I agree. I think this desperate attempt to put up anyone just to stop Ken is absurd. I’m not absolving the New Labour hierarchy of blame – but I am looking at this from the POV of what the left grassroots should be thinking.

More important for London, many disadvantaged people will have realised what they have lost because of Boris and the suburban Tories are likely to consider that Boris hasn’t particularly helped them.

Here’s the problem – the anti-Ken vote is a lot more energised than the anti-Boris vote. The same will be the case in 4 years time.These people might not have necessarilyliked Boris, but they didn’t want Ken coming back in and they went out to vote him out. What evidence is there that they won’t do the same again?

You can try the ‘tired old Ken’ approach, but it’s not going to be about personalities next time – Boris won’t be able to dodge the policy issues that he has lied about till now.

It always has been about personalities. That part of the mayoral election won’t go away, however much we wish it to go away.

wilhelmina:
whether on diversity, the environment, transport, minimum wage, international peace and justice- Ken is way ahead of all, inspires hundreds of thousands of Londoners 9as well as many more across the country

I’m not sure about inspiring – after all, he only won 60/40 against Frank Dobson. and even then, a lot of Ken’s environmentally sound policies were pushed by the Greens. Are you saying there is no one else on the left who can push through a similar agenda?

finally i do not think the any one genuinely on the left is desperate to find some one new when we already have the lefts most winnable candidate in any election for decades

Most winnable? A guy who got beaten by a buffoon who was restricted from speaking to ensure he wouldn’t make any more gaffes? I’m sorry but this is rubbish. Ken’s election was there for him to lose. And he lost it by not recognising the extent of the damage that could be caused by his stance.

A more effective politician would have dealt with Lee Jasper better without throwing around accusations of racism. Did you notice how almost no ethnic minority in the media raised up to defend Lee Jasper on that charge? It was embarassing. And Ken got too arrogant and didn’t realise the extent to which the wind was blowing the other way.

It seems to me that some people are still pining for the yesteryear. Unfortunately, London isn’t full of trade union lefties. There are huge suburbs that we have to neutralise if a left-wing candidate is to win. Ken is too toxic there for us to win. We would have a far better chance with someone fresh, new and dynamic, and can take leftist politics in a new direction.

15. John Towers

Sunny

Boris is a train wreck and we should not at his stage rule out Ken iut would be madness to do so so early on into Johnson term. In realtion to Lee Jasper and your comment

‘ Did you notice how almost no ethnic minority in the media raised up to defend Lee Jasper on that charge? ;

Jasper had editorial support from both the Voice, New Nation and the Black Britain web site. In addition Lord Ousley, Richard Taylor ( Damiloa Taylor;d dad ) and the influential Rev Nimms publically supported him along with Doreen Lawrence. The most senior black church leaders right accross the capital issued very strong press statements of support.

The Asian community did not support Jasper and in fact several leading Asian journalists, politicians and business people were critical of him. Similarly with other ethnic communities. However the African and Carribean communities and organisations largely supported him.

Sunder, I agree that if we put forward Ken it would show the left had run out of talent and ideas. The narrative used in the campaign against Ken is likely to continue even with a mayoral candidate of the left, but trying to reframe himself as the independent candidate he was in 2000 a decade later won’t wash either. I don’t know if tearing apart Labour further makes that much difference these days – there aren’t that many left (pun accidentally intended). The grassroots would be fairly supportive, but we need better than that to beat the Conservatives.

Neil and Wilhemina, I agree with your analysis and Ken will always remain the godfather of the left in London in our hearts and minds. Let’s learn from how Ken built his coalition, the good and the not so good. Let’s also remember that he had a unique story to tell, not only through having delivered as Mayor, but having been at a forefront of fighting the worst excesses of the reactionary right in the 80s, which many people can relate to, not just those in the Labour party.

Do we have someone who has a unique story to tell about how he/she can build a liberal-left coalition that reaches within & beyond political activists into local communities, while being able to deliver policies in the global multicultural city that London is and maybe even test out ideas that can challenge the neo-liberal status quo at the national level?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. sunny hundal

    @James_Hellyer @TimJohnsonltd you clearly know little about my previous views http://t.co/ZEjYbRax

  2. sunny hundal

    @mattseaton heh, you're talking to the person who wrote this a few years ago http://t.co/ZEjYbRax so I've had the nose-peg on longer 🙁

  3. sunny hundal

    @lambertvictoria well, I said that four years ago but no one listens to me… 🙁 http://t.co/uxxicmVT

  4. sunny hundal

    @Partyreptile http://t.co/ZEjYbRax

  5. Martin Coxall

    @Partyreptile http://t.co/ZEjYbRax





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