It’s springtime in a GLA election year, and I am faced once again with the electoral decision I hate the most: who to vote for as London mayor. The transferable vote system means that it is possible to put a first preference for a less undesirable candidate (such as the Green Party’s Jenny Jones) without feeling your vote is thereby completely wasted, but in the end it is likely to come down to Ken versus Boris. Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson both have major positive qualities. They both have big personalities and are enjoyable to listen to, which is welcome in an age of bland cloned politicians genetically engineered by spin doctors and PR consultants. They are both explicitly ideological figures, a welcome relief in a post-political age when the centre ground is all the parties are interested in politics and ideology, which is welcome in our post-political times. They are both dissidents within their own parties on key issues, with Boris for example speaking against some of the most harmful of the Coalition’s brutal welfare policies and endorsing a London Living Wage that is significantly above the national Minimum. Both are signed up to the Strangers into Citizens policy which seeks to regularise London’s undocumented working migrants, which swims sharply against the national mainstream. Both, in different ways, are people I can imagine actually enjoying having a drink with – which I can’t say for hardly any major politicians. Ken has by far the best policies for London, and managed the complex beast that is this metropolis in a very impressive way.
On the other hand, Ken has some views I find truly reprehensible, with affection for dictators and theocrats that rivals George Galloway’s. Both have the smell of cronyism and nepotism around them. Both are rather economical with the truth when it suits them.
Ken’s eight political advisors – including “John Ross, Mr Livingstone's economic adviser; Redmond O'Neill, his adviser on transport; Simon Fletcher, his chief of staff, and Mark Watts, his climate change adviser, all of whom are current or former senior members of Trotskyite group Socialist Action” – received a total of £1.6 million from the London taxpayer in severance payment when Ken was voted out. Apparently, City Hall’s staff went from a planned 350 to nearly 800 on Ken’s watch, with all sorts of placemen and placewomen. Boris promised a leaner regime, but has only lost 95 people, with almost none of them actually having their jobs axed.
Under Boris, the total number of City Hall officials earning more than £100,000 has nearly doubled to 28 at the same time as he has significantly raised transport fares. One example is Munira Mirza, Boris's 34-year-old adviser on culture and youth, who last year when she expanded her role received a 55 per cent pay rise from £80,000 to £127,784. As a mayoral adviser, she now earns just £7,000 less than the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Munira, regular readers will know, is part of the Revolutionary Communist Party/Spiked sect. Her recent book, retailing for £50 and presumably written in her own time and not during her dayjob, has been pulped for mildly amusing copyright related reasons.
Meanwhile, Ken’s coterie has dispersed. For example, one of the eight getting that big payout I mentioned, Murziline Parchment has secured (without a formal selection process) a sinecure at Tower Hamlets. And Tony Winterbottom is now earning a grand a day working for the Ken-endorsed (allegedly) Islamist directly-elected mayor of that borough, Lutfar Rahman. As Dave Hill put it, Rahman won that election "despite being accused of being incompetent, corrupt and beholden to local businessmen and shadowy Muslim extremists".
Another person given a job by Lutfar with no selection process is Ger Francis, a secondee. Francis was an SWP organiser in Birmingham, close to Salma Yaqoob and heavily involved in building Stop the War and Respect there in the early 2000s. He was sacked from his organiser’s job in the SWP with no explanation, after incredibly heavy-handed sectarian tactics against socialists in Birmingham who resisted the SWP’s cosying up to Islamist theocracy and patriarchy. (This is documented by Sue Blackwell here and Steve Davies here.) He later parted ways with the SWP, when it backtracked from this cosying up. This is what Andy Newman wrote when Francis was expelled in 2007:
Ger was and is a political thug. He has played a disastrous role in both Birmingham Stop the war Coalition, and the Socialist Alliance... Ger polarised the left in Birmingham, using bureaucratic manoeuvres and allegedly even physical intimidation, to exclude those... who were regarded as “unhelpful” to the implementation of every wheeze that came from London. Instead of developing an empowering environment for independent minded activists, Birmingham SWP have sought to reduce the anti war movement to an army of automatons who will do what they are told. Ger was a star comrade because he got “results”. As recently as last September he was re-elected as an SWP member back onto Respect’s national Council. Even after being sacked as a full timer in 2002 he remained the SWP’s main figure in Birmingham Stop the War Coalition.
Because the SWP does not have any internal democratic mechanisms for the cadre to independently debate and resolve these sort of differences, the political gap between Ger and the London leadership has been conducted by the granting and then withdrawal of patronage. This political culture has allowed the SWP itself to operate for a number of years, relatively insulated from the harsh political climate, but it is a serious obstacle when it comes to working with other activists more used to the traditional democratic norms of the British labour movement.However, Andy gave Ger a platform in 2008 to explain his position. (Sue’s comment: “Absolutely hilarious. I particularly like this spot-on analysis, with the benefit of hindsight: "The systematic problems of flawed perspectives are compounded by the SWP’s internal regime in which a model of democratic centralism prevails where the emphasis on ‘centralism’ far outweighs that on the ‘democratic’." Imagine.”
As another sideshow, we also have the BNP, whose alleged £1 million defrauding of the London taxpayer is covered here. Meanwhile, Ken remains the chair of Unite Against Fascism, which recently elected (the word “elected” used here in an even more elastic sense than it is by Vladimir Putin) a close Ken associate Azad Ali Martin Smith as its vice chair. Ali, like Lutfar Rahman, plays with the left, but is a right-wing extremist by any meaningful measure.
Anyways, if you want to follow the debates, I recommend the following blogs: that of Tory GLA member James Cleverly (for example highlighting Ken’s alleged tax evasion hypocrisy – on which also see Tim Worstall and Nick Cohen); the excellent Big Smoke (one feature is a regular London link round-up: here’s a recent example); the indispensible Adam Bienkov; the even more indispensible Dave Hill; Trial by Jeory, scurrilous and well-researched, with an emphasis on the East End; the Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan, also scurrilous and well-researched; and the rather slick MayorWatch.
Also read: Jenny Jones on the private rented sector; Rushanara Ali on Ken Livingstone; Barnet, Brian Coleman, Blackshirts and Zionism.
Image at top: from Total Politics Ken sticky moments