With his tawdry political history and dubious allies, London’s mayor deserves to be unseated
Sunday January 20, 2008
To understand why Ken Livingstone is unfit to be the Labour candidate for mayor of London, you have to grasp that he has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement. There is a queasiness about dragging them into the light because so many of the baby boomers now in power wasted their youth in Marxist-Leninist politics. But it is better to overcome queasiness than fail to treat a sickness and Ken Livingstone began by travelling with the sickest sect of them all: the Workers’ Revolutionary party.
It is remembered now as the political home of Vanessa and Corin Redgrave, but it was little more than a vehicle for militant thespians. The WRP began the flipping from far left to far right, which is so common in our time. It took money from Saddam Hussein as he was preparing to gas ‘impure’ ethnic minorities. In London, WRP photographers spied on Iraqi democrats.
In return for supporting the Arab dictatorships, it embraced the fascist conspiracy theory. Its newspaper announced that Jews secretly controlled American foreign policy, the Labour party, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, the BBC and bureaucracies as obscure as the Manpower Services Commission. They ran everything – except the Workers’ Revolutionary party.
The cult’s main purpose, however, was to worship the personality of its great leader, Gerry Healy, a squat, bombastic Irishman and a rapist as near as damn it. In 1985, 26 women members accused him of ‘cruel and systematic debauchery’ on party premises. A militant from Oxford who was trying to get a respite from Healy’s endless demands on her and her comrades’ time and money described his sexual technique.
‘Healy came towards me, was hovering over me. He was not listening to a word I was saying. He wanted only one thing from me – my sexual submission. For a moment, I just stared at him: fat, ugly, red-faced. Was this the price I was supposed to pay for some respite for my area? Something snapped in me. I guess it was my faith, my belief. The dream that drove me forward now seemed unreal and reality entered, tawdry, petty, dirty, seamy reality.’
Few had the stomach to stick with Healy after that. Among those who did were the Redgraves and Livingstone. At Healy’s funeral in 1990, he dismissed all the accusations of collaboration with Saddam and attacks on women as lies spread by MI5 agents who wanted to ‘smash the organisation’.
Healy’s life showed cultists will work themselves to exhaustion for their leader before rebelling and that if left-wing leaders flirt with the regimes and ideologies of the far right, there is always an audience willing to applaud them.
Livingstone learnt the political lesson well and put it into practice in London, as a tough documentary on Channel 4 tomorrow night shows. If it doesn’t provoke a debate on what has happened to the left in Britain, then political journalists might as well give up.
Using leaked emails and the testimony of disillusioned former colleagues, the programme shows how Livingstone found a sect of his own – a Trotskyist cult called Socialist Action. It is a minute organisation – I doubt it has more than 100 members – but Livingstone has given a fair proportion of them jobs with six-figure salaries at the public’s expense.
John Ross, Livingstone’s economic adviser on £121,000, is typical. He is so lacking in economic knowledge that he decided that the Russian Communist party was a force for the future in 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. His economic advice at the time was for the ruling class to learn ‘that they will be killed if they do not allow a takeover by the working class’.
Atma Singh, a former member of the group who resigned as Livingstone’s adviser on Asian issues, told Channel 4 that his former comrades wanted to created a ‘state within the British state’. This ambition explains many peculiar features of Livingstone’s rule that have mystified naïve Londoners.
His city state sent lavish diplomatic missions to Brussels, China and India, while Livingstone negotiated an exploitative oil deal on behalf of Transport for London with Hugo Chávez. Venezuela, a poor country, now provides oil at below the market rate to London, one of the richest cities in the world. In return, Livingstone sends his bureaucrats to Latin America to help Chávez increase his power in Caracas and propagandises for the Chavista cause in London.
And so it goes on. His London Development Agency is described by insiders as the ‘mayor’s piggy bank’. It has thrown millions at companies that were then struck off or, in the case of 20 firms, weren’t even registered at Companies House. If anyone knows who benefited, they’re not saying because Livingstone’s career shows the great flaw with New Labour’s scheme to allow mayors to take over local government is that mayors are not accountable to legislatures. They can appoint who they want and no council or assembly can get rid of them.
Singh walked out when the supposedly left-wing leader made common cause with the Muslim Brotherhood, which carries all the standard prejudices about democracy, freedom of speech, women, Jews and homosexuals we have learnt to expect from the Islamist far right. But he might have resigned because Socialist Action expected its followers to work for Livingstone’s re-election, even though, as public servants, they were meant to stay neutral.
Or because Livingstone used public money to produce propaganda against Trevor Phillips, which culminated in the mayor saying that the head of the Commission for Racial Equality would ‘soon be joining the BNP’, a revolting insult for a white politician to throw at a black man and one that makes a nonsense of his anti-racist postures.
Speaking of the BNP, imagine if a Tory version of Livingstone had given a eulogy at the funeral of a leader of the National Front and surrounded himself with supporters of a neo-fascist ginger group when he was mayor of the capital of this country. It’s fair to guess that the media would have had hysterics. But because Livingstone is from the far left rather than the far right, he’s treated with an unwarranted softness.
The politically inexperienced assume the former is better than the latter. It isn’t. Channel 4’s intervention is a welcome sign that the old double standard is going, it’s hoped for good.