Ken Livingstone

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Ken Livingstone (Kenneth Robert Livingstone, born 17 June 1945) is a left-wing member of the United Kingdom's Labour Party, and a former Member of Parliament. He was Mayor of London from 2000 to 2008 and was a prospective candidate in 2012. He is a colourful and outspoken politician, known for his sharp wit and for his willingness to speak openly on controversial issues. He was a vigorous opponent of the policies of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and of many of those of Tony Blair, especially of the war in Iraq. His willingness to openly express his opposition to Labour Party policies have made him often unpopular with senior figures within the Party, but has won him considerable support from "grassroots" Party members and also from an electorate attracted to the idea of an independent-minded leader.

Ken Livingstone first came to attention as leader of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1981; the Labour Party of that time had been out of government for two years, and was regarded by many as too left-wing to be electable. As a strong supporter of the recognition of gay rights and of measures to address the inequalities faced by women and ethnic minorities, and as a supporter of dialogue with Sinn Fein and the IRA, he became a frequent focus of attacks from tabloid newspapers. He was a prominent anti-apartheid activist, and at a 1985 rally calling for the release of Nelson Mandela, he accused Thatcher of racism, [1] Yet Ken Livingstone's left-wing, confrontational approach to the Conservative government of Thatcher proved popular with voters in London, and his power there ended only when the Thatcher Government abolished the GLC.

Career in Politics

"If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it."
(Title of Ken Livingstone's 1988 autobiography/political tract)
"A person who calls for Gordon Brown to be sacked and whose economic politics do not stand up has a total disregard for sensible, mature politics. That person would be a disaster for Labour and a disaster for London."
Tony Blair, on Ken Livingstone, at a party meeting, 3rd December 1999[2]

"I believe passionately - I may be wrong, but this is my genuine belief - that he would be a disaster for London... But at least, in a sense, he's not my responsibility any more."

Tony Blair, on Ken Livingstone, The World Today radio programme, Australia, 7th March 2000[3]

"My prediction that he would be a disaster has turned out to be wrong and I think when that happens in politics you should just be open about it... If the facts change you should be big enough in politics to say your mind changes."

Tony Blair, BBC London, 6th January 2004[4]

"Why does he not split the job of mayor of London? The former Health Secretary [Frank Dobson] can run as his 'day-mayor' and the hon. Member for Brent, East [Ken Livingstone] can run as his 'night-mayor'."

Conservative leader William Hague, during a House of Commons debate, 8th October 1999[5]

Ken Livingstone joined the Labour Party in 1969 and became secretary of the Norwood Young Socialists. He was elected to Lambeth Council in 1971, and to the Greater London Council (GLC)in 1973, becoming its leader in 1981. In 1986, Margaret Thatcher's government abolished the GLC - a decision that the Labour Party pledged to reverse. In 1985 he was elected to Parliament as Labour member for Brent East, and in the 1987 general election he retained the constituency for Labour.

In the general election of 1997, the Labour Party under Tony Blair's leadership swept into power with a landslide majority. In 1999, the new government created a new Greater London Authority, which for the first time in the UK established a key role for a directly elected Mayor.[6] To Blair's consternation, the first election in 2000 produced a win not for the official Labour candidate, but for 'Red' Ken Livingstone.[7] Livingstone had been nominated as Labour candidate for Mayor by local London Labour parties, but was unsympathetic to "New Labour" and was regarded by Blair as a potential electoral liability for the party nationally.[8] Blair repeatedly predicted that Livingstone would be a "disaster" for London and unfavourably recalled Labour's more left-wing years (see quotations, right). Accordingly an electoral college weighted in favour of MPs over ordinary members rejected Livingstone's nomination; Livingstone refused to accept this and declared that he would stand as an independent candidate against the official Labour candidate, the Blair loyalist Frank Dobson. Livingstone was expelled from the Labour party, but won the election. As Mayor he proved successful and popular, and was re-elected in 2004 - standing as the official Labour candidate, having been re-admitted to the party shortly before.[9]

In November 1999, he was defeated in a contest to select the Labour party's candidate in the election for the newly-created post of Mayor of London by Frank Dobson, the candidate favoured by Tony Blair. He responded by leaving the Labour Party and standing as an independent, and in May 2000 he was elected Mayor of London, a post that he held until 2008, when he was defeated by Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party's candidate. He is again the Labour Party candidate for Mayor in the next election, to be held in 2012.[10]

His previous performance as Mayor was generally regarded as satisfactory,[11] although his introduction of congestion charges has had a mixed reception. However, in matters other than his conduct as Mayor of London, he has been a controversial figure. He has been a supporter of the communist regime in Cuba and the strongly socialist government of Venezuela,[12] an opponent of New Labour, and of Gordon Brown's economic policies (having said in 1998 that "Gordon is not up to his job... Britain is now heading towards a recession entirely of Gordon's making".[13]) In a 2007 interview,[14] he defended the Islamic cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is banned from entering the USA and UK, as a progressive force who preaches about an engagement between Islam and the west ("I’m not going to take stuff off a website run by a former Israeli intelligence officer as a literal interpretation of what al-Qaradawi says, nor am I going to believe what I read in the Sun when I meet the man myself and I hear him"). [15][16][17] He criticised Israel's 2009 actions against the Hamas organisation in the Gaza Strip[18] In 2009 he interviewed the leader of Hamas for The New Statesman [19] and was criticised by a Foreign Office minister for doing so.[20]

Livingstone has been a recurrent "hate figure" for the tabloid press; the Sun once described him as "the most odious man in Britain". And Livingstone has been outspoken in his contempt for tabloid journalism: "What a squalid and irresponsible little profession it is. Nothing prepares you for how bad Fleet Street really is until it craps on you from a great height.” In 2005, he received a four-week suspension from office for comparing a Jewish journalist working for the Daily Mail newspaper group (which supported the Nazis in the 1930s) to a concentration camp guard (saying, "You're just doing it because you're paid to, aren't you?”).[21][22]

Livingstone won widespread praise for his speech after the London bombings of 7 July 2005 (the 7/7 bombings).


"I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life. I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail. In the days that follow, look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They do not want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."

"When you go to Moscow, the only thing the bloody religions can agree on—the patriarch, the local chief rabbi and the local imam—is that they all don’t want a gay rights march in Moscow." In interview with Simon Parker, 2007


  1. How the anti-apartheid movement was spied on by Special Branch The Independent 15 September 2007
  2. 'Blair says Livingstone is backed by Trotskyists'. 4th December 1999.
  3. The World Today: 'Red Kenny bucks Blair in London race'. 7th March 2000.
  4. BBC News: 'Livingstone back in from the cold'. 6th January 2004.
  5. Blair is a liar and hypocrite, says Hague' 17th November 1999
  6. - About.
  7. BBC News: 'Ken Livingstone: Rebel mayor'. One of Livingstone's actions was to mount a giant, updated counter of London's rising unemployment figures on the roof of County Hall, opposite The Houses of Parliament.
  8. BBC News: 'Blair in new attack on Livingstone'. 19th November 1999
  9. The Independent: 'Blair and Livingstone's marriage of convenience' 15th December 2003.
  10. BBC News: 'Profile: Ken Livingstone'.
  11. Londoners' Attitudes Towards The Mayor And Other Issues, IPSOS poll, 31 March 2006.
  12. Livingstone, Ken. Not a difficult choice at all, The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 May 2006. Retrieved on 18 October 2013.
  13. BBC Politics Show: 'With an eye on 2007...' Andrew Cryan, 8th December 2006.
  14. Prospect magazine: 'Simon Parker Interview: Ken Livingstone'29th April 2007.
  15. BBC News: 'Muslim cleric not allowed into UK'. 7th February 2008.
  16. Foreign Policy Research Institute: 'Samuel Helfont: Islam and Islamism Today: the Case of Yusuf al-Qaradawi'. January 2010.
  17. Investigative Project on Terrorism: 'Yusuf al-Qaradawi'.
  18. Guardian: Ken Livingstone: Europe must take the initiative'. 4th January 2009.
  19. Exclusive: Hamas leader interview New Statesman September 2009
  20. Foreign Office minister attacks Livingstone over Hamas interview
  21. BBC News: 'Mayor is suspended over Nazi jibe'. 24th February 2006.
  22. [
  23. Video of Speech by Ken Livingstone delivered after the 7/7 bombings in London while in Singapore for the Olympic bid announcement. BBC London 30 June 2010