Friday 22 September 2023

Appreciating Ken Livingstone and his contribution to Brent and London


 I tweeted the above this afternoon when I saw the image on the Brent and Kilburn Times website and the accompanying story was little better. The quote was from a short-term Liberal Democrat councillor who was later disowned by her own party. She made no impact on Brent politics, certainly not on national politics and did little for the Brent people. To choose her to comment on someone who for all his faults did make one hell of an impact is beyond belief. To use the quote as a headline just leaves me speechless.
As someone who spent a considerable amount of time caring for a parent with dementia I would like to express my personal sympathy, support, solidarity and respect to Ken Livingstone and his family.

The story does not even mention his period as an MP for Brent East or his leadership of the GLC where he became, from his office across the river from Parliament, a highly effective thorn in the flesh of Margaret Thatcher with his criticism of her politics and a powerful banner campaign.

It was a sign of his efefctiveness that the Tory Government moved to abolish the GLC and the Inner London Education Authority.

Ken pioneered policies that tackled racism, sexism and homophobia and funded grassroots groups at the forefront of those issues.  I was one of a group of teachers, called All London Teachers and Racism (ALTARF) that won a  GLC grant that enabled us to employ a full-time worker to spearhead our work on an anti-racist curriculum, producing several books and even a BBC Open Door programme. It is work, along with that of other funded groups,  that has stood the test of time.
To give a fuller picture I reproduce below, with permission, an article from Jewish Voice for Labour. First published on their websute HERE

On Ken Livingstone

We publish here a tribute by Graham Bash to Ken Livingstone, who has sadly been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease

Graham recalls Ken’s achievements as leader of the Greater London Council until its abolition by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 and as Mayor of London 2000-2008; his immense talent as an intuitive practical politician; his uncompromising anti-racism;  his ability to cut across political divisions and build alliances. Graham notes Ken’s weaknesses, which at times infuriated left-wing friends almost as much as his successes enraged adversaries on the right. He also records the shameful behaviour of many erstwhile allies who failed to show Ken the solidarity he deserved when facing totally unfounded allegations of antisemitism.




Breaking the mould of British politics

The news that Ken Livingstone has Alzheimer’s disease and is now in retirement is very sad and we in JVL send him our very best wishes.

It is all too easy to forget the enormity of the achievements of the Greater London Council of which he was leader in the 1980s. It broke the mould of British politics, gave hope to millions of the most disadvantaged people in London and showed that a determined socialist administration could take on the Tories and win mass popular support.

And this was achieved against Thatcher’s vicious Tory government -and with a GLC Labour Group that had nowhere near a left wing majority. That was testimony to Ken’s greatest strengths – his immense talent as an intuitive practical politician and his ability to cut across political divisions and build alliances.

His other great achievement as leader of the GLC was his commitment to equalities and the liberation of the oppressed – to Black people, women, Irish, lesbians and gays. He played a pivotal role on the issue of Ireland, tirelessly fighting for peace and building links with Sinn Fein.

He helped to introduce a new vocabulary into our political discourse. As he was later to write: “It was only with the 1981 GLC administration that they [equalities] finally took their rightful place alongside and integrated with the traditional agenda of the left”.

And those of us old enough to remember will recall those wonderful banners on County Hall facing the Houses of Parliament, such as “74% of Londoners Oppose GLC Abolition: LONDON’S NOT FOR TURNING”.

Ken had his political weaknesses. He was a wonderful practical politician – but he lacked that ideological tempering that would have avoided the worst mistakes of his volte face on rate-capping, for example, and ended up in an alliance on this critical issue against the left.

But there was a second and third coming of Ken – as a left wing Labour MP for Brent East (1987-2001) and as Mayor of London. As Mayor, he again showed his political weakness when he urged RMT members to cross a picket line in a London Underground dispute, a move which angered many trade union and party activists. Yet also as Mayor, he had the considerable achievement of introducing the Congestion Charge – in the teeth of opposition which involved fighting a court action.

The congestion charge raised revenue that was used to increase the numbers of buses, their routes and timing. That shifted transport provision towards low-income and no income people, who proportionately rely more on buses than trains and tubes. Other transport improvements were improving cycle routes and giving interest-free loans to buy bikes – even though he didn’t know how to ride a bike himself!

He was perhaps the greatest anti-racist leader the Labour Party has ever produced. So the allegations of antisemitism were in my opinion an obscenity. His crime was telling the truth about the Haavara Agreement in the 1930s – in which some Zionist organisations played a role in breaking the anti-Hitler trade boycott that threatened to bring the new Nazi regime to its knees.

Yes, his formulations were clumsy and his intervention was tactically unhelpful. But his essential point was true, as can be seen from the book by the Zionist, Edwin Black, The Transfer Agreement.

Ken was let down by the Labour Party and by many of his comrades on the left who forgot the simple word – “solidarity”. It is a shame we must not forget.

We wish Ken well in what we hope will be many years of retirement.

Mike Cushman adds:

As a Londoner, I celebrate how Ken changed the city I live for the better in many more ways than those already mentioned in Graham’s appreciation. These are just three

1.    The transformation of the South Banks (in cooperation with much missed Tony Banks) from an arts centre for an elite who were already immersed in prestigious culture to an arts and social space enjoyed by a vast swathe of Londoners exhibiting artistic endeavours reflective of many experiences. This turned spaces, cold and empty outside performance times, into somewhere warm, lively and busy

2.    The development of a bike hire scheme that was only due to be completed after he left office and were misnamed Boris Bikes

3.    The Popular Planning Unit which transformed how local authorities could get involved in economic development with the engagement of local communities and which supported many initiatives with environmental aspects thirty years before they became common concerns

And of course the Olympics which only came to London because of his hard graft and which he was spitefully excluded from in 2012

Madeleine Kingston adds:

I worked with Ken for several years when he was Mayor of London. I was a middle aged woman and he was always lovely to work with, extremely egalitarian, never patronising and always generous, courteous and respectful. He always related to me as a comrade and a friend.



Paul Lorber said...

Very sad news. One Labour politician who stuck with his principles.

Pete Firmin said...

Thank you Martin. A good rejoinder to a dreadful article.

Anonymous said...

Ken Livingstone's legacy embodies core Marxist principles: challenging the establishment, championing equality, and confronting oppression. His leadership at the Greater London Council defied convention and offered hope to the marginalised. Despite imperfections, his commitment to anti-racism and liberation remains a shining example. In retirement, Ken's impact on British politics, though not explicitly Marxist, echoes the struggle for justice and equality.