In the last set of Mayoral elections, Ken Livingstone’s independence from New Labour effectively meant that he was able to ride out the storm that swirled around it. That storm has now become a tempest.
After eleven years, the Tories have finally started to triangulate new Labour, gesturing leftwards (albeit without any substance) on the environment, tax and spending,and a plethora of other policy areas. To us on the left, this situation was a totally predictable situation which naturally extends from the logic of New Labour. Itwas bound, if allowed to carry on, to result in the hardening of a coalition built around neo-liberalism. New Labour is not as well suited, in terms of its material base, to this situation as a well-run Tory party.
Labour may have changed to accommodate the middle class and avoid the firestorm of the bourgeois press; but fundamentally, it will always rely on the votes of the working class, as long as it retains any distinctive character from the other two parties.
Livingstone, for the first time, has lost out from the same process which has blighted Labour across the rest of the country, that is the re-opening of the contradiction between working and middle class voters who congregated around a shared interest in opposing the conservatives in 1997. The anti-Ken suburbs turned out in massive areas to remove the mayor who had deprived them of the privacy of their morning car journeys. They were fast-tracked there by Boris Johnson’s sophisticated election machine and the dominance of the Evening Standard press monopoly which, though a natural opponent of Livingstone on ideological grounds, has directed special hostility towards him since he publicly drew attention to their support for German fascism during the Finegold affair. Working class turnout was also high, but not as high as that from the suburbs. Perhaps if there was more enthusiasm for Labour generally, the situation would have been salvageable.
Livingstone gets a lot of flack on the left, which I feel is unjustified. There are the Kremlinesque excesses of the pabloite Socialist Action members who staffed his office, and of course the Qarawadi affair. With regard to the latter, Livingstone was right to point out that the cleric is no more homophobic than many Christians. The problem with this response, while it is correct, is that it does not address why a mayor would want to invite homophobic fundamentalists of any religious background to share a platform with him. Either way, Livingstone's gradually accrued list of questionable decisions did not help him. One cannot also help to question the level of his advocacy for London as a financial institution; the amount of wealth floating around cannot have helped his vote!
One must however remember that this is the man who has delivered a London Living Wage,the Oyster card, opposition to Iraq, and support for Venezuela. He has renationalised a big chunk of the railway network (improving it at breakneck speed), fought privatisation on the tube, and implemented an environmentally graded congestion charge system which has penalised those who despoil our air and see themselves as above concepts such as ‘public’ transport.
During Iraq, and the other various attacks New Labour has made on the weak, Ken has been an inspiration to me, a beacon of principle, populism and until now, electorability, floating in the Blairite sea of modern middle-class politics. He effortlessly straddled the gap between Labour's Socialist Campaign Group, and the 'soft left', of which I claim membership. He will be sorely missed. His failure to gain re-election comes as a blow to most Londoners, but it will pale in comparison to the outrageous assaults his successor is duty bound to commit. It is also wise to remember than he cruised in on Second Preference votes from the fascist BNP, who now hold a London Assembly seat to boot. This also goes to highlight the failure of Respect, the Left List and the Greens (who retained two seats on the GLA).
Hopefully we will see more of Ken Livingstone in the future. When (not 'if') reactionary Tory fun figure Johnson ruins everything, perhaps Ken will return to avenge his earlier defeat. As so often, the democratic left can only hope.