The Left

Our Ken

Two well worth reading articles on Ken Livingstone today.

First, our friend Paulie makes a debut post as the Drink Soaked Trots:

In so many ways, Ken is my kind of guy. He’s an audacious left-wing alternative to the blandness of new Labour. Most elected representatives have little practical legitimacy in any challenges that they make to their disciplined centralised parties because they can never claim much of a personal endorsement.

For the most part, voters pick parties and not individual politicians. Increasingly elections are beauty contests between the leading personalities (or even a stand-off between two semi-Presidents). If the creeping centralisation of most modern democracies has one outstanding cause, it is probably this.

Ken is an exception though. He has always understood that orthodoxy can only be challenged by people who can point to thousands of personal votes. He is a shrewd tactician as well. When he looked for nomination as Labour’s Mayoral candidate in London, he had every right to expect to get it. He beat his rivals hands down and the dead hand of party bureaucracy denied his entitlement – ultimately at Labour’s expense.

Ken played the Party like a fiddle for the year leading up to that election, and – once in office – he was able to demonstrate why risk-averse political parties are often incapable of the kind of change that the public want. Where Blairite daleks would have drowned Ken’s transport measures in a soup of consultation and consensus, Ken got on with it.

He drove through potentially unpopular policies that had articulate media-backed opponents, and he gave Labour an object lesson in how the real ‘forces of conservatism’ should be handled. It was often a joy to watch him presenting the Tory press with a stiff middle-fingered salute.

And when People In Pubs talk about problems, they expect clear-cut solutions of the kind that Ken offers, and political parties don’t. Where Whitehall is stuffed with ineffectual self-perpetuating Sir Humphreys for whom a problem solved is a job abolished, Ken appears to have surrounded himself by fellow travellers who share his ambitions.

It’s easy to be cynical about can’t-do politicians boxed-in by tottering complex problems and irreconcilable vested interests. But Ken is the antidote to this. Independent-minded conviction politicians like him are – more than any other device – the means by which politicians and voters can be reconnected.

Having said all of that, I wouldn’t vote for him any more, even if you paid me. He has sailed much too close to the wind on communal issues. He may not be your actual anti-Semite, but he is prepared to forgive it in a way that no decent socialist should. He’s prepared to offer compromise and dialogue to Islamic extremists in a way that leaves the onlooker with a suspicion that he wishes them well in their endeavour. When deciding ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, he picks the wrong enemy and the wrong friend.

Read on

Then read Martin Bright in the New Statesman, on Livingstone’s Foreign Policy:

The veteran left-wing journalist Nigel Fountain, who first met Livingstone in the early 1970s and has taken a close interest in Venezuela, believes the mayor was wrong to take up Chávez as a radical cause: “The left has always loved a man in uniform who claims to be left-wing. Chávez is a populist authoritarian sitting on an oil well. Ken Livingstone gets incredibly enthusiastic about things. But he doesn’t have any idea what Venezuela is really like.”

Livingstone would do well to at least address some of the concerns of Chávez’s left-wing opponents in Venezuela itself. Take, for instance, Teodoro Petkoff, editor of the opposition newspaper Tal Cual. Petkoff, a former resistance fighter who founded the democratic left-wing party Movimento al Socialismo in 1971, has called on the international left to expose the contradictions of the Chávez regime. Asked by the website Harry’s Place to describe the country, he provided the following useful pen-portrait.

“Venezuela is a racially mixed [mestizo] country and you can find white and dark-skinned people on both the pro-Chávez and anti-Chávez sides . . . It is true that Chávez’s social programmes have reached the broad masses of poor people, but his economic policy has increased poverty by 10 per cent since 1998 according to official figures from the National Institute of Statistics.”

Livingstone has already been rightly criticised by those on the traditional left for his dalliance with the Islamic religious right. There remains a distinct possibility that his alliance with Chávez will prove equally difficult to justify as a genuinely progressive political strategy.

A senior adviser said the mayor’s office had examined and rejected claims about the authoritarian nature of the Chávez regime. “We prefer to deal with a government that spends its oil revenues on health and education rather than exporting it to banks in Florida,” he said.