It’s time for Ken to call it a day

by Kevin Meagher

Ken Livingstone used to be that rarest of things on the left of Labour politics: a popular populist.

The left is full of unpopular would-be populists, who, while capable of galvanising a following of the liker-minded, cannot translate that appeal into actual votes at election time. Even Tony Benn was hopeless at convincing actual voters, (famously losing his own seat in 1983’s electoral calamity).

Other left-wing firebrands like Nye Bevan, recognised the limits of protest and put away such childish things, going on to make their peace with high office. The NHS is his abiding epitaph for so doing. (Benn’s ministerial career left us with Concorde).

So Ken has been afforded incredible latitude by successive Labour leaders. Even after he quit the party to stand as London Mayor in 2000 (following, admittedly, some of the most cack-handed fixing of the New Labour years) Tony Blair was still more than willing to bend party rules to readmit him early and allow him to run for re-election in 2004 wearing Labour’s colours. He was a winner, pure and simple.

Blair, ever the pragmatist, recognised that Ken was a round peg in a round hole when it came to London. He was the perfect fit for a role that was two-parts cheerleader to one-part executive leader.  So Ken could safely dial-up his rhetoric, implement his signature policy on congestion charging and campaign for the Olympics. It was all low-risk, consequence-free stuff.

But the electorate’s patience eventually wanes and in 2008 he was well-beaten by Boris Johnson. Ed Miliband, in a characteristic misjudgement, then gave him another go at fluffing it in 2012, which he duly did.

A few quiet years followed, but, short of True Believers, (or genuine big beasts on the hard left) Jeremy Corbyn appointed him to co-chair Labour’s defence review last month. It was an open invitation to smash the crockery, which he has now just done.

Yes, Ken is an inveterate lip-flapper and runs away at the mouth. But his remarks about Tony Blair being responsible for the July 2007 bombings in London and the imputation that the July 2005 jihadi bombers were anything other than brainwashed lunatics, was a step too far.

They are a provocation at a time when every sane person in the party is trying to bite their lip. Adding, for good measure, that British troops who died trying to defend women’s rights in Afghanistan and uphold free elections in Iraq were “discredited” (despite what you may think about the legitimacy or overall success of those missions) is unforgivable political stupidity.

And it should not be forgiven this time. The Labour MPs Ian Murray and Angela Smith – who both called for him to be removed his role at Monday night’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party were right to do so. Labour’s credibility with the public is at rock-bottom as it is.

A YouGov poll last month asked voters whether they trusted Jeremy Corbyn to take the right decisions on defence. The gap between those who trust him and those who don’t ran 54/20 against.

Even faith-based Corbynistas can read graphs.

Ken is a destructive and undisciplined influence whose every utterance will make that gap wider. His monstrously over-inflated opinion of himself means he simply cannot work in a collegiate way. He is laughably unsuited to navigating the sensitivities over defence policy in such a divided party.

It’s now time for him to offer up at least one selfless gesture in his political life, and, for the sake of party harmony, make good on his 2012 pledge to retire from frontline politics for good.

As Denis Skinner noted of him back in 2000, “The personality cult of the ego does not work down a coal mine and it does not work in the Labour party.”


Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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11 Responses to “It’s time for Ken to call it a day”

  1. Gorton Comrade says:

    Why isn’t Ken held to account for the slur against people with mental health issues? If he had used a racial epithet in the same sort of discourse he would be out on his ear. Why are Jeremy Corbyn and Ken’s apologist Diane Abbott continuing to stand by this odious little man who looks to be trying to complete his set of obvious targets. Jews, gays and now people with mental illnesses. Hmmm. Who had these same prejudice? If only I could think of someone!!

  2. I hope you guys won’t mind an off-topic comment.

    I’ve just reheard the speech from Hilary Benn, and though I am from a different party, I thought it was absolutely outstanding.

  3. Matt says:

    ‘Ed Miliband, in a characteristic misjudgement, then gave him another go at fluffing it in 2012, which he duly did.’

    The Labour candidacy for mayor of London was decided by the party membership and so the choice of Ken Livingstone in 2012 had nothing to do with Ed Miliband’s judgement.

  4. Mike Stallard says:

    Ken is a really good radio host with the disgraced, Aresnal supporting, Mellor(s). I think he ought to stick to that.
    Alan Johnson who leads the Stay in Europe movement in the Labour Party is just as much of a dinosaur, but as someone who really wants us out of the EU (but NOT out of Europe!) that makes me very pleased.

  5. Ryland1 says:

    Was going to make 2 points pointing out inaccuracies in the arguments deployed here, but one has already been made – Livingstone was selected by the party membership not Miliband.

    2nd point is in 1983, Benn lost standing in a different seat from the one he won in 1979. His seat was abolished and he fought a seat with a significantly different electorate. He was offered the chance to stand in any number of safe seats elsewhere around the country but he refused and decided to try to win a seat in Bristol where he had been an MP for 33 years. Evidence again of a very principled man.

  6. John P Reid says:

    Matt,beat me to it, but Ed miliband had spent two years by then blaming new. Labour for Gordon Broen swinging us to the left with the 50p tax rate for why we lost in 2010′ that sort of rhetoric ,played into livungatines hands that Ken lost in 2998 ,because of Gordon Brown and new labour, not his own sleaze over Lee Jasper
    In fact livingstine got more than 100,000 votes on second prefs, in 2008 than 2004
    It was just avoris vote was a half million more, than the Toey choice in 2004 Stephen Norris, and labour increased its assembly members from 2004 to 2008

    I agree with Mike regarding Johnson, doesn’t Meloor support Chelsea though?

  7. Mike Homfray says:

    Yes, but the problem is that you want just about everyone who isn’t on the right of the party to go.

  8. Dave Roberts. says:

    This went off topic quickly. As far as I know Livingstone was selected both times by the London Labour Party which is controlled by the far left. The NEC is also under their control which is why when Livingstone openly backed the Islamist election rigger Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets to the extent of campaigning with him on the streets he was never disciplined. Christine Shawcroft and unber leftist was briefly suspended from the NEC and then reinstated after an investigation “cleared” her of any wrong doing.

    It will be impossible to expel Livingstone, Kevin, and the chances of him standing down for ” the good of the party” are zero as he now will try to do as much damage as he can in whatever time he has left on earth.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Mike Himfray, when have labour Uncut ever called for jon cryer, or Ann black, or Diane Abbott, or Sadiq Khan, or kelvin Hopkins, or Peter Willsaman

  10. @Mike Homfray

    Hi Mike,

    I don’t think that’s fair at all.

    Kevin is unhappy about Ken Livingstone publicly saying he’d support the deselection of MPs who voted with the shadow foreign secretary on a free vote.

    If Ken were just an ordinary member, that wouldn’t matter so much, but he’s joint chair of the defense review, appointed by Corbyn. That means what he says will be seen by opponents of air strikes as a green light from the leadership to campaign to drive out those 66 MPs.

    There’s also the claim in Conservative Home that McDonnell gave coded support to deselection at a Momentum meeting which allowed “Socialist Party former Militant” to openly campaign and leaflet for deselection of Labour moderates. If the ConHome claim is true, then the leadership’s claims that they do not support deselection look extremely duplicitous.

    And if the claim that Militant is being allowed by Momentum to put a leaflet on every seat at a Momentum meeting is true, that’s indicates something extremely worrying about Momentum.

    As you know, back in the 80s, I overheard Militant supporters talking about how beating up SDP canvassers was a price worth paying for the revolution.

    Knowing that, I wouldn’t dismiss these claims of death threats and threatened violence as just trolls trying to provoke a reaction. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is real violence over the next few years.

    For myself at uni, I only had a threat to break my arm by a Trotskyist. But that threat was a lot more worrying, seeing as this guy had drawn a knife at a demo, beaten one guy up, and knocked another guy to the ground while walking on campus.

    Mike, take this seriously. In all likelihood, a few of the people who you think are on your side are a lot nastier than you realise. And, from what I saw, they go after anyone in their way, and that won’t just be members of Progress.

  11. paul barker says:

    It now seems (see Political Betting) that if Labour win the London Mayor, Ken will be pushed as the candidate in the ensuing byelection. With Livinstone back in The HoC how long before he is isn The Shadow Cabinet ?

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