Livingstone’s scripted tears

by Atul Hatwal

16/04/12 10.30 Update: Fair’s fair: it looks like the party press officer who told the Guardian that the PEB used actors, was wrong. We know that some weren’t and the Guardian piece was at least partially incorrect.

So the record needs to be set straight for this article. It looks likely that the people featured in the PEB weren’t professional actors, they were supporters. It is certainly the case that no-one has contradicted the Livingstone team’s contention that they were supporters.

But whether these were actors or carefully selected supporters, the central point of the piece remains the same: to cry in response to a video montage of your own supporters, reading your script , about how much they want you to be mayor, that you have already seen, is more Pyongyang than London.

13/04/12 10:51 Update: Well, there’s been quite the flap following this piece. The Livingstone campaign are resolutely denying that any of the people in the PEB are actors. This is the relevant section from the Guardian on which the article is based:

On Wednesday Ken Livingstone revealed his emotional side, sniffling at a launch of his new party political broadcast. “The people you saw on the screen represent hundreds of thousands of Londoners who desperately want a mayor who is going to make their life easier in this city,” Ken said, as Ed Miliband patted him on the back. For sure, the broadcast is slicker than anything his team has previously produced; it features a boxer, a groundsman, one posh woman and an extremely cute baby. But who exactly are they? The Labour party confessed yesterday that the Londoners are all actors – but actors who support Ken. Of the crying, it said: “It was very genuine. It really was.”

Clearly there has been some form of breakdown in communication between the Livingstone campaign and the Labour party press office. The issue at the heart of this article is authenticity. The key question is: were  the people in the PEB were scripted?

If their words were drafted by the campaign team then it is disingenuous to claim these are the authentic responses of ordinary Londoners that prompted a heartfelt reaction from Livingstone. If their words were their own, then patently that is more powerful.

At the moment it looks like team Ken are saying that people were scripted. We will update as we receive more information.

***

Another week, another new depth plumbed in the mayoral campaign.

In yesterday’s Guardian diary, there was a little snippet about Labour’s latest party election broadcast (PEB).

For those who haven’t seen it, the PEB is very effective. Engaging and well-paced, above all it shows rather than tells. It features Londoners speaking about their issues, directly into camera, edited tightly together. The climax at the end where they each ask Ken to win for them carries some real emotional weight.

I’m no fan of Labour’s candidate but even I was impressed.

Until, that is, I read the Guardian diary. This told me that the plaintive and persuasive Londoners were in fact all actors. Not a boxer, a mother, a groundsman or a businessman. Just actors, hired to do a job.  “Labour supporting actors” is how the party press office described them, as if this somehow helped.

This mini-revelation robs the PEB of its authenticity. It remains a very good piece of political communication, but watching the broadcast again, knowing that these folk were shipped in from London’s version of central casting, drains the emotion out of the piece.

Oh well. “Disappointing” was my take. And then I thought, “hang on.”

Most people will have seen this photo of Ken Livingstone, overcome by emotion, crying at the screening of his election broadcast.

At the time the explanation given to reporters was that Ken was moved by the genuine words of Londoners and the responsibility he felt to win the election for them.

Stirring stuff. Shame it was rubbish.

The actual situation in the room was this: Livingstone was crying after watching a series of actors that had been carefully selected by his team, read out lines that his writers had penned, in a style directed by his staff. He knew that these were not typical Londoners. He knew that this was his script.

But still the tears flowed.

When looking again at Livingstone’s reaction, it’s hard to know which explanation is worse – that he forced himself to eke out some tears for political affectation, or that he was moved to tears listening to sweet words of flattery that he had practically written himself.

Calculated cynicism or rampant narcissism. Maybe a bit of both? Either way, what it’s not is genuine.

Last week I wrote on Uncut about how Boris’s expletive filled outburst in the lift could actually benefit him.  For a brief moment Johnson allowed the identikit politician’s Stepford demeanour to slip and showed some real passion.

It was similar to when Hillary Clinton teared up on the campaign trail in the New Hampshire diner in 2008 or John Prescott punched the egg-throwing idiot during the 2001 general election.

In each of these cases, the moment was driven by a human connection and an emotional reaction.

Ken’s press conference was the opposite. It was all about him. He was watching his own election broadcast, responding to his own words and pictures and putting his emotions on show for the assembled journalists in a neat package for the news clips.

Livingstone’s tears were as synthetic as John Prescott’s punch was authentic.

As this confected distraction unravels, yet again the real losers will be Londoners.  Boris Johnson’s gaffes and mistakes go unreported because media oxygen is being sucked up each week by the latest Livingstone imbroglio.

Whether its tax avoidance, relations with the Jewish community or crocodile tears, this election has virtually become a referendum on Ken Livingstone. There’s no space in the debate for policies or issues, just the one, over-weaning flawed personality.

What a mess.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut


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69 Responses to “Livingstone’s scripted tears”

  1. Marc Jones says:

    The rush to win worthy points on here is galling. Does anyone genuinely think Boris Johnson getting back in would benefit, London, Londoners, Labour voters, the needy, the poor, the working, transport users, the young more than a Livingstone win?

    Really?

    Wrong man? He’s the candidate. Get over yourself and wise the fuck up.

  2. Elliot Bidgood says:

    “It was similar to when Hillary Clinton teared up on the campaign trail in the New Hampshire diner in 2008″. First thing’s first, Hillary Clinton was on the receiving end of the exact same allegation about that then as Ken is now. I’m not saying either were genuine, but savaging him while not not even thinking of giving another politician in a similar situation anything other than the benefit of the doubt surely displays an anti-Ken bias.

    Second, I’m amazed by the assertions that loyalty to the Labour candidate is nothing more than “tribalism”. British politics is two party, for the most part: either you’re going to be led by Labour, or by the Tories. I want to be led by Labour, and I certainly don’t want to be led by the Tories, therefore I am in the Labour Party. Anyone who is a supporter of the Labour Party who (as LU contributors are) should instinctively understand this, and it’s probably why you joined as well- all political parties operate partly on tribalism, partly on principle and partly on pragmatism. The fact that several above cited Ken’s “disloyalty to the Labour party” as their reason for disliking him (while criticising the “tribalism” of those who back him in the same posts) demonstrates this. I’m not Ken’s biggest fan and I’ve always liked Oona King, but Ken has done alot of good for people when he’s been at his best, and there’s no logical measure I can think of by which Boris isn’t worse as an alternative.

    Third, many of Ken’s staunchest detractors, including those who have written above, are Labour moderates (whom I generally count myself among), but you are losing the most admirable thing about your approach to politics by refusing to back Ken, which is your pragmatism. Labour moderates often rightfully complain about the dogmatism of the hard left when they refuse to back centre-left Labour policies, boo Tony Blair’s name despite all his successes and even split the left vote against the right by defecting to the LDs/Respect/the Greens etc, condemning themselves and us all to Tory government. But at moments like this it’s the centre-left who have to show that same reason themselves and make the right choice- we all sometimes find that politics is about the lesser of two evils.

  3. swatantra says:

    I’m not surprised at Alex Hilton. Some of our much younger members just can’t take setbacks; they are so impatient for advancement. Older hacks have learnt to weather the storms, and know that the winds are bound to change, sooner rather than later. Thats what democracy is all about; you expect to find yourself in oppo some time, and give yourself a chance to rebuild.
    Alex started Labourhome which eventually ground to a halt when events were not going Labours way.

  4. Moobs says:

    So it is forbidden to criticise Ken because loyalty to the party comes first. This despite the fact that he ran against the Labour Party candidate in 2000 and supported Lutfur Rahman in 2010. Uh-huh.

  5. crosland says:

    this claim that we must vote for ken as he is the labour candidate is nonsense. ken stood against dobson and recently campaigned against the labour candidate in tower hamlets.this should have led to his expulsion.If you add to that his dodgy tax practices (money earned from working for press tv the mouthpiece of clerical fascist state that oppresses democrats,trade unionists,gays and women),his anti semitic comments and his pitiful fake broadcasts add up to reasons for not voting for him.The man is always boasting he didnt vote for blair or new labour.so now is the time to return the favour and not vote for him.

  6. swatantra says:

    Thank goodness we have Party Govt in the UK and not Govt by individuals; imagine a Parliament of 650 MPs expressing their own thoughts; utter anarchy. Its a pity that the Mayorals are tendng to concentrate far too much on personality rather than Party Policy as spelt out in Kens London Manifesto. And its the job of the Party to ensure that the Leader, or Mayor, occassionally refreshes their grasp of Party Policy as spelt out in their Party Manifestos.
    But its also true that Livingstone has a history of rebellion, standing against Dobbo in 2000 and in supporting unofficial candidates. So he shouldn’t be surprised that some of that has come back to bite him. However the charges levelled against him concocted by Tory Central Office ranging from tax dodging to anti semitism are unfounded and red complete herrings.
    So sensible Londoners should be voting for the Party that can get London movng again ie Labour.

  7. Anon E Mouse says:

    Elliot Bidgood – If Labour voters weren’t tribalist then Livingston wouldn’t get any support at all.

    His behaviour is disgraceful towards homosexuals, woman and religious minorities.

    His condemnation of tax avoiders and accusation that his opponent was doing the same when the only person guilty of his alleged wrongdoing was himself.

    Labour deserves better people than him to represent them and perhaps if people like you actually started to consider the implications of having unacceptable individuals like Livingston in the party let alone stand to represent them at elections then the party may become electable again.

    Not that it’s going to happen with tribalists like yourself…

  8. Chris M says:

    “this claim that we must vote for ken as he is the labour candidate is nonsense. ken stood against dobson and recently campaigned against the labour candidate in tower hamlets.”

    1) Dobson was elected by a selection method transparently concocted to keep Livingstone out.

    2) Lutfur Rahman was selected as the Labour candidate and replaced by the third choice.

    Can the Dan Hodges candidate claim any mandate for their campaign against Livingstone?

    “Labour deserves better people than him to represent them and perhaps if people like you actually started to consider the implications of having unacceptable individuals like Livingston in the party let alone stand to represent them at elections then the party may become electable again”

    How are those national polls looking?

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/

    So the “unelectable” Labour Party have basically picked up support from the Lib Dems. They must be really far left then.

    “His behaviour is disgraceful towards homosexuals, woman and religious minorities.”

    I looked at the last election results when the same “he’s in the pocket of Muslims” stuff was around. True, not very good performance in areas I associate with Jews. But he romped home in for example Southall (Sikhs) and Wembley (Hindus).

    Were they all wrong about his behaviour towards them? Go and find some evidence

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/datablog/interactive/2012/apr/12/london-mayoral-election-2008-votes-map

  9. Chris M says:

    By the way, anyone got a comment on Livingstone’s response to the allegations re the video:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/davehillblog/2012/apr/15/ken-livingstone-party-election-broadcast-media-response

  10. Mike Homfray says:

    Naturally, all involved in this site and this article should expect to be reported for bringing the party into disrepute and opposing Labour’s chosen candidate.

  11. crosland says:

    I note the pro ken posters seem be silent on his being a mouthpiece for Iran.
    also he criticised boris for having 2 jobs when he was mayor and mp at the same time.

    Livingstone brings the party into disrepute by his tax avoidance and extremism.

    he claimed Jewish people wont vote for him as they are rich.
    i assume given his partially released tax records he wont vote for himself.

    Dobson was still an official candidate chosen by an electoral college.
    A method chosen by Benn and the hard left in the 1980s
    kens supporters seem to forget that

  12. Elliot Bidgood says:

    “Labour deserves better people than him to represent them and perhaps if people like you actually started to consider the implications of having unacceptable individuals like Livingston in the party let alone stand to represent them at elections then the party may become electable again. Not that it’s going to happen with tribalists like yourself.”

    As I said, Ken’s not my ideal candidate, ideologically and as a person, and it’s not my choosing that he’s the candidate – if I’d had a vote in London in 2010 I doubt I’d have cast it for him. But that can’t matter right now, because he already is the candidate, and this election is a straight choice. It’s not tribalism to observe that Ken has done some good in his career and that Boris Johnson, between his views and his own various indiscretions, is comparably worse:

    1) Crime is rising in London, and Boris is cutting police (and lying about it)
    2) Fares are rising well above inflation under Boris, and while I’m sceptical of Ken’s plan, if he doesn’t deliver he’d be under unbearable pressure to step down and hand over to Val Shawcross in October anyway
    3) Housing is critical issue in the city, on which Boris had missed his targets
    4) Ken has pledged to try and set up an EMA system in the city, long shot though it will be. Boris is against
    4) Ken has always fought for gay rights and mispoke on “riddled” – Boris didn’t 10 years ago when he equated gay marriage with marrying dogs and said Section 28 repeal would indoctrinate children. He’s converted more recently
    5) In the immediate wake of 7/7, when the UK needed unity and the Muslim community were at particular risk of discrimination, Boris condemned Islam as “the problem” and that the Quran was “the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers”
    6) Just recently, he insulted London’s Irish community. Not the worst remark, but as bad as some of the stuff that’s held against Ken in your posts
    7) He was sacked from a newspaper for dishonesty
    8) He was sacked from the Tory frontbench in 2004 for Liverpool and lying about his affair, which he described as an “inverted pyramid of piffle” before the allegations turned out to be true

    And on and on and on. Ken has the right values and approach to policy, and even though the disappointment on the Labour side with Ken is understandable, I can’t see how Boris is any better. Sometimes democracy comes down to the lesser of two evils, a basis on which millions of voters often have to make their decisions when they don’t have all the options they’d like- any successful political party relies on at least some of these votes. That’s just my view.

    “this claim that we must vote for ken as he is the labour candidate is nonsense. ken stood against dobson and recently campaigned against the labour candidate in tower hamlets.this should have led to his expulsion.”

    This is one of the things that I dislike about Ken, but on this I tend to believe that two wrongs don’t make a right. Punishing Ken now for his past disloyalties punishes the party, and London, with four more years of Boris and everything I just said above

  13. ChrisM says:

    “Dobson was still an official candidate chosen by an electoral college.
    A method chosen by Benn and the hard left in the 1980s
    kens supporters seem to forget that”

    Nope. The weight of the votes for candidate gave weight to the votes of MPs at the expense of members. The opposite of Bennism.

    Do you look anything up or spin from the hip?

  14. Anon E Mouse says:

    Leaving aside Livingston’s hypocritical tax avoidance, at least Boris Johnson isn’t shackled by political correctness like Livingston.

    Regarding Islam I have yet to see where his point wasn’t valid it’s just that for some reason the liberal elites in this country seem unwilling to support the oppressed by that religion.

    I want to live in a society without children being ferried abroad to be married off to people they’ve never met or worse female genital mutilation, honour killings or the execution of people for their sexuality over which they have no choice.

    If that means the choice is an appeaser of that behaviour by Livingston or one who condemns it like Johnson then I’m with the latter.

    What is sad is that the Labour Party made massive inroads in rightly changing our society to be accepting of minorities but despite this the party seem to ignore what was good and continue to try to convince us, despite all the evidence, that the were fiscally competent.

    Labour did big important things in our country but to throw it all away by having an unacceptable candidate like Livingston represent them sets all that back.

    As for Johnson offending people he can offend me every day and as long as he never becomes stage managed then that’s good.

    I’d rather have twenty Johnson’s than one Polly Toynbee frankly and the sooner Labour realise people want authentic individuals irrespective of their background the sooner they may be considered for governance again.

    No offence….

  15. “he claimed Jewish people wont vote for him as they are rich.”

    This is a black lie.

    What happened is that after a meeting with some Jewish people which was supposed to be private and internal and before which it was argeed that direct quotes were not to be used Jonathan Freedland and some of his mates at the Jewish Chronicle wrote a despicable and one sided account of a meeting at which they were unable to convince Ken of their proposed ideas and platform (in particular dictating who he should and shouldn’t meet). Mr Freedland then saw to is that this letter was widely disseminated to the national press and wrote about it in a national newspaper purporting slyly that the paraphrased statements in the letter were actual verbatim quotes. Gutter politics at its absolute nadir.

    http://www.bigsmoke.org.uk/?p=61498

  16. Anon E Mouse says:

    Anthony Miller – So anti-semitism is OK as long as it’s in private?

    Livingston is a disgrace and perhaps you can find an excuse for his invitation to Yusuf al-Qaradawi to city hall.

    Go on then…

  17. Jay Smith says:

    Ken is a vicious little man who would sell his own grandmother to get ahead.

    His claim during the London riots that these people were all misunderstood and the Government was to blame due to cuts, which lets remember were necessary.

    The man is a coward and a liar.

  18. crosland says:

    now he admits he couldnt handle his own finances
    doesnt bode well for his economic strategy

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