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.
Credit: Louisa Thomson
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