Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

‘No illusions!’

Labour’s moderates need to vote and campaign ‘for Ken – with no illusions!’

I am referring of course to the old Socialist Workers’ party slogan at elections: ‘vote Labour – with no illusions’.

I think it would be fair to say Ken Livingstone and I come from diametrically opposed traditions within the Labour party and have very different views about the direction the party should go in and what it means to be a modern democratic socialist.

I was Frank Dobson’s agent back in the 1990s so I campaigned for Frank against Ken in the Labour mayoral selection (in the course of which I was near enough the action to get name-checked in a Panorama documentary about how Frank won the selection) and subsequent election. I deplored Ken running against the party and was one of the few voices to publicly oppose his readmission to the Labour party in2004. I voted against him being reselected in the selection trigger ballot in 2007 when he was the only candidate! I voted for Oona King, not Ken, in the selection in 2010.

This year I am standing against Ken, on the opposing team of candidates, for Labour’s NEC.

I do not resile from my criticisms of Ken on a range of issues, nor would he expect me to suddenly agree with him:

•    However badly treated he feels he was in the 2000 selection he
should not have run as an independent.
•    However badly treated he feels Lutfur Rahman was in the 2010 Tower
Hamlets mayoral selection, Ken should not have appeared to back Lutfur running as an independent. That was deplorable and he only escaped auto-exclusion from the party on a technicality.
•    He has too often in the past played a sectarian role in internal
Labour politics, whether in turning Lambeth and Camden to the hard left in the 1970s, in ousting Andrew McIntosh as GLC Labour leader, in opposing most of what Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair were trying to do to make Labour electable, or in interfering in Hackney political infighting in the 1990s or the Tower Hamlets equivalent in this decade.
•    We are in a radically different place on the Middle East and Israel.
•    His support for Venezuela and Cuba is at best silly, at worst scary.
•    He has completely mishandled his relationship with the Jewish
community in a way that has caused great offence – though his recent attempts to repair that are welcome, if long overdue.
•    He does not define a left boundary to whom it is acceptable to be allied with – keeping a door open to Respect and Islamist groups, cosying up to the Greens and revolutionary far left at ‘Progressive London’ conferences, and taking advice from leading members of what was the International Marxist Group/Socialist Action – a secretive Trotskyist sect which would have been confined to running the ‘Student Board Left’ at NUS conferences if it wasn’t for his patronage.

But I have already voted for Ken by post and I am working my socks off for him as a volunteer borough election coordinator in Hackney.


First, all of the above were reasons to vote against Ken being the Labour candidate for mayor. The arguments for a different Labour candidate were made then. He won. That other candidate, Oona King, is now out campaigning for Ken and will serve under him at City Hall if he wins.

I respect the collective decision of my fellow London Labour party members. It was emphatic. He got 66 per cent of the votes cast by individual Labour party members. I can’t criticise Ken over 2000 or Lutfur Rahman, or expect Labour people who disagree with me to campaign for me or candidates who share my politics if I don’t campaign for people I disagree with at the selection stage. Otherwise there is no point having selections or parties or collective democratic decision-making.

I know the angst (and actual anger) about Ken I have seen expressed online is genuine, but it should have been argued out by Labour members in the 2010 selection, or in analysing the results after May 3, not in the final days of a crucial campaign.

Second, I’m voting and campaigning as much for the words ‘The Labour Party Candidate’ as for the named individual running. In our political system you cannot disentangle the two, so a vote against, or a reluctance to campaign for, an individual candidate is perceived by the media and public as a vote against the party. I am a Labour party member. I vote Labour. Always. It has never crossed my mind that this might be a matter for debate. I want Labour to win every election it runs in, without exception.

But I am not daft enough to not realise that in this era of partisan dealignment not everyone is as tribal as I am, otherwise the outcome of elections would be a static one, just measuring the size of different tribes.

There is a rational aspect to my behaviour as well.

That relates to Ken’s values, his record, and his policies.

His stance on specific matters to do with internal Labour politics or foreign policy may be anathema to me. But he is not running for foreign secretary. Nor is this the election when he is running for a post dealing with internal party issues – that’s the NEC election and you can pass judgement on his stance on those matters in that OMOV ballot this June.

There is a reason we are in the same party, serving on the same NEC.

That is that like every Labour member Ken’s values are those of social justice and equality, and concern for the underprivileged, the poor, the oppressed. Those values inform his policies for London and I can even concede they inform the stuff on foreign policy that I disagree with – I think he has come to the wrong conclusions, not that his motives are malign. More unites Ken and say, Tony Blair, than divides them.

His record on the issues that are the day job of the mayor – crime, regeneration and transport – was excellent when he was mayor. My area has a neighbourhood police team because of Ken. Hackney has tube-style overground services because Ken invested in the East London Line extension. The buses I rely on to get to work improved immeasurably in frequency and reliability because of Ken. The Olympics are regenerating east London partly because of Ken. He did nothing in these core policy areas that was not consistent with what New Labour was doing nationally. Tony Blair praised him and worked closely with him. I am prepared to agree to differ with him on international issues – he probably finds my views deeply objectionable – if he keeps my streets safe and my bus running on time. We can have the fight about the other issues in the appropriate forums – they are nothing to do with his proven ability to run London.

Looking forward, he has policies that will get Londoners’ bus and tube fares down, making us better off, and that will make our streets safer, where Boris has a policy vacuum and a record of under-achievement.

For anyone on the left of politics, we don’t face a choice between Ken and some imaginary moderate Labour candidate.

A defeat for Ken can only mean one thing in a tight two-way fight: a Tory victory for Boris, a man who aspires to be Tory party leader.

This would leave our capital city of eight million people run by the Conservatives at a time when they have forfeited all right to win elections through their dreadful economic policy.

It would get them off the hook, enabling them to distract attention away from what looks likely to be a night of Labour gains across the rest of the country (not least because the media is London-centric).

If the Tories win in London they will not soften their policies, they will be emboldened and people everywhere stand to lose from this.

The polls have fluctuated but that this is going to come down to what happens on the day. It could come down to a handful of votes, or the grassroots Get Out the Vote work in a single ward.

We have the best ground campaign with the most grassroots activity in recent history. Please be part of it, and part of securing a historic Labour victory in London.

Don’t let the Tories get away with it – vote Labour in London on May 3 – with no illusions about our candidate but with respect for his record and support for his policies.


Luke Akehurst is a constituency representative on Labour’s NEC, a councillor in Hackney, writes regularly for Progress here and blogs here


Credit: Louisa Thomson

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Luke Akehurst

is director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of Labour's National Executive Committee


  • Interesting variation on the title in the mail out “Labour’s moderates need to vote and campaign ‘for Ken – with no illusions!”, and the title here. I do applaud and respect Luke’s respect of the democratic will of the party – sadly, I think he stands more or less alone on his principles with a large number of comrades from his tradition within the party. It does indeed seem that ‘Labour’s moderates’ have deserted Ken in their droves, and Boris’s election is all but assured. One or two have confided in me ‘rather a Boris victory than a Ken victory’ – Ken would be vindicated in his approach and therefore unbearable, and defeat would clear the decks for a (cough) more acceptable candidate to Labour’s centre. This is utterly appalling, and really people who think like this do not belong in the party.

    I do occasionally find it supremely depressing that Labour’s radical centre urge the soft and moderate left to respect democracy and campaign for leaders and candidates selected and elected in occasionally dubious circumstances, which duly, out of a sense of party loyalty, we do, but the knife does not cut the other way, and in some areas -Tower Hamlets in particular – a virtual boycott of Livingstone exists on the ground. Various reasons are cited – most often Ken’s unreliability as an independent – though apparently comrades returning from the Liberal Democrats are not seen in the same light. I just hope that the comrades referred to above wake up and smell the possibility of 4 more years of Boris.

  • Tom Watson laughably said vote Livingstone and “hold your nose” while you do it. Most likely need to have a couple of bails of cotton wool stuffed up your nasal passages! I have voted for the Labour interest in every election for 30 years – local, national, European. I have never considered him to be Labour. He is not Labour, never has been, never will. A truly awful man. No wonder Galloway likes him so much. They deserve each other (preferably on a desert island).

  • A Sucsessful politican say’s things that get’s those who (s)he wants to attract will here and those who won’t like what he’s saying will go over their heads; But sometimes politicans can be so confident they don’t need to Appeal to parts of the electorate they’ll keep quiet IE: Blair not caring what the Daily MAil thought, when he knew h’ed walk it in 2001, Cameron said “He was the Heir To Blair” yet when he thought h’ed won in April 2010 and wanted to get teh Daily mail vote backed He said he regretted saying it, Ken of course said the tories were riddled with gays and that “Rich jews wouldn’t vote for him,” He said that to get the Muslim vote, as he feels they don’t like Gays or jews ,If ken wants my vote he’s got 5 days to apologise for it,

    yes I’ll be voting fo r the Labour assembly members

  • Nope – no illusions about Ken at all. None whatsoever – that’s why I won’t be voting for him

  • Sorry, no way. There are limits to party loyalty, and they are set by the obligation to oppose all forms of racism. I have no idea whether Livingstone is personally antisemitic, but I do know that he is content to condone and to use antisemitism when it suits him. We won’t get the Labour Party that Luke and I want to see unless it is seen that there is no place for Livingstone’s brand of communalist politics. I intend to split my vote, and support Labour GLA members while withholding my support from Livingstone. If enough Labour supporters do the same, perhaps the party will get the message.

  • A Zionist for the antiSemite? ! well it does make sense. AntiSemitism and Zionism are not antipodes but twins. Herzl welcomed the victory of the anti-Dreyfusards as he felt it made his case: that Jews and Gentiles must be eternally hostile. A tradition continued by Joachim Prinz (WIR JUDEN, Frankfurt, 1934) and Jabotinsky. Strange that the great advocates of anti-racism above everything suddenly regard antiSemitism as marginal….

  • I loathed and detested Tony Blair, and all he stood for, in his dreadful, opportunistic, unprincipled manner, and I loathed our appalling Labour MP, who sent their kids to private schools, and never used the NHS in their life, but I *still* voted Labour, because that was the will of the people. As I said above, you rightwingers want it both ways, sadly, the ability to impose your will on the rest of the party, and the ability to boycott candidates you feel insufficiently New Labour.

    And frankly, that stinks, and is worthy of the Liberal Democrats.

  • Strange how that loyalty applies to MPs who are apologists for all sorts of hideous dictators the world over. I didn’t see your tendency in the party complain when Tony Blair gladhanded Colonel Ghaddafi, and sundry other appalling anti-semites; it’s the double standards that I can’t be doing with.

  • Who’s calling anti-semitism marginal. And Luke Akehurst, Director of We Believe in Israel, is asking you to vote for Ken. The irony, I hope, is not lost on you.

  • I am indeed a LP member. I didn’t sign my brain away to get my card – or my conscience and in any case I believe that Ken losing would be a thoroughly good thing for the Labour Party. It would break the baleful spell that this character has had for far too long over the party of which, as I am sure I do not need to add, he has been a serial betrayer.

  • I’m disappointed by Luke’s article as it is dominated more his own navel gazing likes and dislikes (e.g. views on the Middle East) rather than what London needs for the next 4 years. I don’t think it helps for Luke to use a formulation of the Socialist Workers Party which is based on rejection of Parliamentary democracy rather than any commitment to strengthen centre-left politics. Unlike the SWP, we want all our candidates to succeed and deliver on their promises.
    In the run up to theMayoral election, there has been an unbalanced concentration on Ken Livingstone’s tax affairs, and his relations within the Jewish community, rather than Boris’s record in delivering the promises he made in 2008. We know whose this agenda is and we should not collude with it.
    Of course, it’s worrying that some otherwise Labour voters may not vote for Ken, but a week out from the election, surely we can raise our game and help to build support for the candidate around the substantive issues that will affect Londonners in the next 4 years

  • I agree – all political parties need re-invention and new blood if they are to continue to appeal. We cannot preserve the dinosaur DNA typified by Livingstone and hope that the public will be remotely interested in us.

    We made a big big mistake in not selecting Oona King. Imagine the contrast between her and Johnson. Such a different prospect for the public than the two on offer at the moment.

  • I hope that if we have a Tory Mayor on 4th May, you’re pleased with your choice. I hope that when he puts fares up above the rate of inflation every year for the next four years, you’re pleased with your choice. I hope that every time he enacts a policy which favours the car over the pedestrian, the cyclist, the bus or train commuter, you’re still comfortable with your choice. I hope that when crime goes up, our poorest young people are deprived of EMA, the housing crisis worsens and the worst excesses of the government are enthusiastically received at City Hall, you feel you made the right decision. I hope that when David Cameron leaps a mile in the air, seeing a Boris victory as London’s approval of the most vicious, right-wing government in living memory, you’re pleased with your choice. God forbid that you should swallow your pride, support the official Labour candidate and keep the Tory out. No, I imagine that voting for the Cutting Off My Nose To Spite My Face Party is the best course of action.

  • You should be thrown out of the party, Mark. If I’d’ve called for a vote for the Lib Dems or Tories as a Labour Party member, that’s what would have happened to me.

    Oh, but this is different…

  • The DNA is called Labour Party values. If it wasn’t for people like Ken, New Labour idiots would be backing grammar schools, NHS privatisation, and private unemployment insurance.

    Oona would have been completely crushed by Boris – she hasn’t any experience running a whelk stall, still less a City.

  • I prefer Richard Rogers’ endorsement in the Evening Standard: ‘We need a Mayor who is visionary and decisive, who understands the needs and aspirations of ordinary Londoners…… Under Ken’s leadership London became a model city – culturally, socially and economically. It was visited by leaders from around the world studying how such urban vitality had been achieved.’
    If only we could get our visionary back! Don’t be so grudging, Luke.

  • It is Ken Livingstone who is calling antiSemitism marginal (Guardian , Freedland column March 23, followup article report 30 March by Helene Mulholland), and his allies (Lee Jasper in the Telegraph 24 April p 12). LA is the Zionist – does Ryszard, who at long last seems to be recognizing the point I made – collusion between Zionists and anti-Semites – not see this? The ‘irony’ which climaxed in the proposed Eichmann ‘trucks for (young healthy ) Jewish lives to colonize Palestine deal of 1944 (see Arendt “Eichmann in Jerusalem” etc, continues today.

Sign up to our daily roundup email