Vote Boris or Ken? A plague on both their houses
Election time is not the most exciting time in the political calendar, but the most boring and predictable one, for it invariably requires of a party person that they leave their critical faculties at the door, else it be said that they are handing ammunition to the enemy.
Growing up in the West Country, one of the first political memories I have is of a joke my grandfather used to enjoy telling. “Next door’s cat could get elected round here,” he used to say. “So long as he wears a blue rosette.” This remains true of the area I grew up in even today. Although next door’s cat never did run for office – disappointingly in my opinion, for he was named Max (Max Shachtman, anyone?) – it still remains dispiritingly easy to get elected in that corner of the west of England simply by standing on a ticket for the Conservative Party.
While this year’s London Mayoral election is nothing like as one-sided, the inclination of commentators and party hacks to bunker down and base every utterance on a belief in my candidate right or wrong isn’t all that different. Once the coloured rosette is pinned to the lapel, the criticism from one’s own side is supposed to stop. Some have even chosen to characterise those with deep concerns about the Labour candidate for Mayor as acting “in the interests of the one per cent”, presumably putting to one side the fact that the candidate in question appears, if his accounting is anything to go by, quite keen on joining the one per cent himself.
Nor in his campaign to be elected Mayor of London has Mr Livingstone missed an opportunity to reassure this collection of hear no evil, see no evil backers. Not that it was ever going to be hard to portray Boris Johnson as an out of touch friend of the rich or anything. The current incumbent has on a number of occasions attempted to elicit sympathy for the practitioners of the City’s crony capitalism, and as if to boast of the sheer distance between members of his party and the public, he once disgustingly referred to the £250,000 he earned writing a newspaper column as “chicken feed”.
And yet it is worth remembering, in spite of the party mindedness of some, that during his previous stint in office Ken Livingstone maintained near silence as Gordon Brown turned the City into something resembling a tax haven for the super-rich. “There isn’t an ideological conflict anymore,” Mr Livingstone told Prospect magazine in April 2007. “The business community has been almost depoliticised.” One of those who lobbied vociferously for Crossrail, the rail link intended to transport City workers from the Home Counties to their gleaming offices largely at the expense of the taxpayer, Mr Livingstone also appointed as his economic adviser John Ross, a man who could be heard during “Red” Ken’s eight year term vociferously defending the profits of the City’s Hedge Fund managers.
Caving in to the prevailing orthodoxy of finance capitalism during the boom years is one thing, but there are also the statements Mr Livingstone has repeatedly made about London’s Jews. We on the left are being asked to ignore the “profound concerns” expressed by prominent Jewish Labour Party supporters at Mr Livingstone’s apparent obsession with and repeated conflation of Zionism, the Jewish people and the state of Israel. We are also told to put his refusal to apologise for embracing a fascistic cleric who supports the “right” of Islamic theocracies to murder their gay citizens down, bizarrely, to “Ken being Ken”. (To those who sight Livingstone’s record on gay rights in the 1980s, I feel compelled to ask where the man’s rainbow flag was when he took money from Press TV – a television station that is not so much a broadcasting outlet as an arm of the Iranian intelligence service. Are Iranian gays less deserving of the rights he campaigned for in London?)
Either because Mr Livingstone’s views echo those of the British intelligentsia on a handful of issues – most notably United States foreign policy, Israel and Islam – or because he is standing for election against a member of the Conservative Party, all of these concerns, and the socialist and liberal principles which make them concerning, are supposed to be set aside until after the election has finished.
It is not only London where one can at present find progressive principles being casually jettisoning in this manner. George Galloway, a man who for almost 20 years has been a fellow traveller of one despotic regime after another, was recently elected in Bradford amidst great media fanfare. Liberal newspapers and magazines have only just stopped carrying nauseating comment pieces telling those of us still in the Labour Party that we have something to learn from a man who once referred to the day the Soviet Union collapsed as the worst day of his life. If this does not sufficiently condemn Mr Galloway in his own words, we have only to look at some of the debased utterances he has made in recent years. Speaking in Syria in July 2005, Galloway called Bashir al Assad, the leader whose army is currently butchering and raping the citizens of that country, “the last Arab leader”. Galloway has also written not so much a book as a eulogy on Fidel Castro, a Stalinist autocrat who until recently presided over a country with the highest prison population in the western hemisphere.
And yet in spite of this, Mr Galloway was gushingly referred to in the latest edition of the left-liberal New Statesman as “a man who stands by his principles and tells it straight”.
Pass the sick bucket when you’re done, won’t you.
The re-emergence of men like Ken Livingstone and George Galloway has afforded us a repulsive spectacle, and it’s more than an irony that so many calling themselves leftists and liberals have been too foolish to recognise it as such. It is often said that we on the left are too idealistic. On the contrary; the idea that it is possible to line up behind individuals like Livingstone and Galloway for electoral advantage is testament to the level to which left-wing politics in Britain has sunk. If anything, a great deal more idealism would be very welcome. Oh and by the way, there are more than two candidates standing to be elected Mayor of London.Tagged in: boris johnson, ken livingstone, london mayor
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