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Tuesday 22 May 2018

So Farewell Then Ken Livingstone

In the end, he jumped before being pushed: Ken Livingstone, former leader of the GLC, thorn in the side of Margaret Thatcher, long-serving MP, two-term Mayor of London, and enthusiastic participant in the city’s successful Olympic bid, has resigned from the Labour Party days before a disciplinary hearing into his conduct, following his initial suspension almost two years ago. He was, in the end, the architect of his own downfall.
And while those that Robin Day memorably and rightly called here today and gone tomorrow politicians crow contentedly about Ken’s departure, one should not whisper it quietly - he did at least achieve something in his political career, unlike many of them.

The credit side would have earned Livingstone a significant place in history, had he not also been notorious for the twin habits of shooting his mouth off a little too readily, and then being incapable of saying sorry afterwards. His time as London Mayor was key.

It is difficult even this far down the line to see why the Blair Government had such a control freak mentality: Tone had to have his placeman at the Welsh Assembly - that failed spectacularly - and likewise had to impose his own obedient candidate for the London Mayoralty. Livingstone would not play that game: he stood as an Independent in 2000 and won against official Labour, and the Tories. And he was right to do so.

Only he was prepared to face down the car lobby and impose the London congestion charge - a move that has endured, even though his successor caved in to the motorist faction and abandoned the western extension of the charging zone. Ken put on more bus services, and set in train replacement of the oldest Underground trains.

Those who like their new air-conditioned District, Circle and Metropolitan trains have Livingstone to thank: they, along with new trains for the Victoria Line, were ordered under his Mayoralty. His occasional successor, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, ordered none, with the result that the Bakerloo Line’s veteran stock may see 60 years in service.

The campaign by the right-wing press against bendy buses, another joined with gusto by Andrew “transcription error” Gilligan, was fatuous. They provided capacity and speed; the vanity BozzaMasters that came after them did neither, and were a waste of money. But Gilligan did get paid off by Bozza for his services.

Johnson’s Mayoralty by comparison to Ken’s was a disaster. The waste was on an eye-watering scale. The cancellation of the Cross River Tram condemned south-east London to years more at the bottom of the public transport pecking order. At least Bozza did not cancel Crossrail: now he’ll be there at the opening to claim the credit.
But, as I suggested, Livingstone could never keep his trap shut at times when keeping it shut should not have been difficult. His clumsy berating of the Standard’s Oliver Finegold was indefensible; his inability to own up and say sorry was worse. Whether that was a sign of anti-Semitism is debatable: Ken was an equal opportunity insult machine.

Likewise, the behaviour that got him suspended was perhaps not deliberately anti-Semitic, but the last thing to do when the subject is such a sensitive one is to blunder into the nearest TV studio and proclaim “Yes but Hitler”. Again, he should have kept schtum.

On top of that was the impression that Ken was not really a party man, unless that party was the one led by Himself Personally Now. That had occasional benefits - it was so much easier for him to defy Blair and stand as an independent in the first London Mayoral election. It was less easy for him, and his party leadership, later on.

Now that he has gone, there has inevitably been a chorus of triumphalism from those who despised him. It would be a more effective chorus, were it not comprised of so many who have achieved nothing in politics, and most likely never will.

Not least among the no-marks sneering at old Ken as he shuffles off has been Wes Streeting, an utter worm of a politician who will blow whichever way the press establishment demands, and espouse any campaign he can, to ensure he remains in the comfort to which he has become accustomed. Streeting is the kind of machine politician who gave Labour such a bad name in recent times. There are others.

No, Ken Livingstone should have long ago learned to hold his tongue and own up when caught shooting his mouth off. Thus he became, ultimately, the architect of his own downfall - while of course Good Old Bozza could indulge in more explicit racism, for which he has been awarded a free pass by his fellow journalists.

But at least Ken achieved something in his career, and something useful to all Londoners. His critics, like the crawler Streeting, never will. Such is politics.


Darren G said...

I have to admit that Ken did do a lot of good things for London, but there is one thing that I do think he did get wrong, and that was the bendy buses.

A lot of the bus routes are not suitable for the length of the buses he introduce as a lot of london streets are too narrow and in places the buses even struggled to turn corners.

Another benefit was to have multiple doors so that people could enter and exit the buses moire quickly. Unfortunately what happened was people abused it and stopped paying for transport. TfL confirmed this loss of revenue on buses.

In hindsight he should have just stuck with the double decker buses.

I just wonder though what the bikes would have been called instead of the current "Boris Bikes" nicknames they currently have

Roy said...

One thing,Tim

The western extension to the Congestion Zone was always a flawed idea. Unlike the central area, which was highly successful.

Kensington, Bayswater, Holland Park and so forth are mostly residential areas, and all those residents got the residents' discount. This basically handed a nearly free pass to a large number of people who might otherwise have kept away from central London.

The motoring lobby might have had some influence but they probably didn't have to work too hard. AFAIUI, the extension simply wasn't working terribly well.

Alan said...

With regard to bendy buses. The 18 metre articulated bus is pretty general around the world in large and medium cities, many of which have urban geography similar to London. They have distinct advantages over double deckers in "dwell time",because the latter have to stand at stops while people go up and down stairs (of which most British examples have only one set).

Malcolm Redfellow said...

@Darren G: Those 'Bendy buses', which — you say — couldn't round corners seem to do just that in York (try the elbow bends at Museum Street Bootham Bar) and elsewhere.

Guess it's facilitated by a decent distance from the Politics Exchange lie factory.

danny said...

Ken "faced down the car lobby".

Many working class people rely on cars yet he pandered to the upper middle class snobbish cycling enviro fascist mob who wanted car owners locked up for crimes against the planet.

Good riddance to the green prick.

nparker said...

@ danny

Yeah, let's just destroy our environment and leave our descendants to live on a hell-hole!

I suspect you're purposely conflating obnoxious cyclists with environmentalists.