Livingstone’s London

HE’S BEEN in the news every day, he’s spoken out on the major issues affecting Londoners, he’s advocated a ‘new style’, ‘inclusive’ politics, he’s asked Tony Blair for more money for London. Many of the three-quarters of a million who voted for Ken Livingstone will be pleased that the new London Mayor seems to have hit the ground running.

Paula Mitchell

Ken has promised his supporters: “What you have invested in me, I will never betray.” But central to his mayoral campaign was his opposition to tube privatisation. And shortly after becoming mayor he threatened the government with a “judicial review”.

Yet, unfortunately, within days he had already made concessions. In order to get New Labour GLA members into his cabinet, he has agreed instead to an independent committee (chaired by the former editor of The Times) to look into the government’s privatisation plans.

Livingstone has also thrown himself into the debate about the future of Ford at Dagenham. He rightly said that the future of the plant is in the hands of the workers and if they decide to stand and fight then they will have his backing.

Yet when asked in a TV interview what could be done, his answer was “immediately nothing”. His policy consists of asking Ford’s bosses to keep the plant open ready for when the value of the pound falls. If that fails and the plant closes, Dagenham he argues should become an enterprise zone. In other words put your faith in big business.

The reality is that Ken Livingstone is trying to look both ways. He wants to be the ‘people’s champion’, while simultaneously defending big business. He makes radical speeches about the international financial institutions killing more people than the Nazis but then says: “I will build a strong partnership with every section of London business”.

The Lib Dems rejected his overtures of involvement in a grand coalition government of London, but New Labour’s Nicky Gavron has accepted the job of deputy mayor. Known as the “Quango Queen”, Gavron is credited with turning Haringey into a New Labour council. Late last year Haringey council workers were on strike against attacks on their pay and conditions, meanwhile Gavron lives in a £1 million home.

Another Haringey Blairite, Lord Toby Harris, has been appointed to head the Police Committee.

At the same time, Ken is trying to maintain the radical image. The Greens’ Darren Johnson eagerly accepted the top environment post. Leader of the National Assembly against Racism, Lee Jasper has been appointed to race relations and liaison with the police.

But this radicalism is unfortunately just an impression. Lee Jasper has worked as a Metropolitan Police adviser and police trainer for years and even Jack Straw picked him as a race adviser.

This cross-class alliance has been justified with statements such as “we’re all Londoners at heart.” Calling on voters to “name and shame governments that discriminate against Londoners”, he claims London receives proportionately less money than other areas. He rightly says that the Mayor has to lead a campaign for more money but demands that the extra money should be taken from other areas, particularly Scotland.

This is simply London populism. He makes radical sounding speeches and pledges to support Londoners, but denies the fundamental fact that the interests of Londoners are not all the same. Instead he should be demanding a united campaign of the working class throughout Britain against big business.

An opportunity to lead a real fight looks like being lost. Livingstone could use his authority to mobilise hundreds of thousands in defence of the tube, to take over Ford or to win extra money for London. He could use his position to call for a new party to represent working-class people and take concrete steps towards that. But instead Livingstone is already working towards re-entry to the Labour Party.

Nonetheless, his election victory is far more significant than his individual actions. Millions have seen that it is possible to defeat New Labour and many will draw the conclusion that Ken hasn’t; that a new party to defend working-class people is not only necessary but possible.