UK Politics

The Guardian turns on Ken

The Guardian leader today gets to the essence of the Ken Livingstone issue:

“He performed brilliantly in the wake of the July 7 bombs, a unifying source of strength and common sense. But since that moment, surely the high point of his career, his habit of sustained insurgency has slid into an unattractive and partisan arrogance.”

And their conclusion?

“But if Mr Livingstone wants to hold on to office, he should stop picking fights with the very many Londoners who hope that he can mend his ways. Holding the capital hostage with the understandable threat that Mr Johnson will be worse is a foolish way to test the public’s patience.”

Personally, what shocked me the most was the revelations that cronies like Redmond O’Neil – ostensibly “Transport Advisor” – collect 6-figure salaries but don’t appear to be doing the job expected of them. In last night’s Channel Four Dispatches, we heard from TFL management, trustees, and the transport committee at City Hall, all of whom said they hardly even met the man, let alone actually worked with him in any meaningful way.

And then there was the missing millions – doled out to bizarre companies around London whose global headquarters seemed to be above the chip shop before they moved leaving no forwarding addresses. Lee Jasper was implicated in this, but, according to The Telegraph:

To take one example, a company run by a friend of Mr Jasper was given £345,000 to produce an internet tool for London businesses, despite having no expertise in computers and an office in Liverpool.

Senior LDA officers tried to sever the relationship when it became clear the company was inadequate to the task – but, Mr Gilligan alleges, they were personally overruled by Mr Jasper. The site operated only briefly, and the company went into liquidation. The money has apparently vanished.

Mr Gilligan submitted a list of 80 written questions about this and other projects to the mayor’s office a full week before going to press with his story.

Mr Livingstone did not respond to them, and has yet to do so. Instead, after the story came out, he denounced it as “racist” and “a smear campaign”.

He claimed that an “independent inquiry” had “dismissed 15 allegations”, and that a “full audit trail” was available.

But, says the paper:

They conclude quite on the money, noting that the character of Livingstone’s response was nevertheless (as always) “a mixture of bluster, misdirection and whining special pleading – shames his office.”

And that’s exactly what has happened in response to Dispatches. ‘Why aren’t other candidates under as much scrutiny?’, City Hall cut-and-pasters whine in comment boxes. ‘Boris will be worse’ they moan. But none of this actually answers the allegations.

But, as the saying goes, it’s not mean if it’s true. It’s not smear tactics and a hatchet job if the allegations are true.

Are unelected ‘advisors’ like Redmond O’Neil value for money for Londoners? What does he actually do?

Has Lee Jasper been using his office to smear political rivals as the leaked emails in the programme indicate, and has the London Development Agency been giving away London’s money to shady dealers?

And is it possible to get a straight answer without bluster, accusations of racism and various other smokes and mirrors stunts?


Imagine if you were a public figure interviewed by journalists after leaving a restaurant and your quip to them is “worst meal of my life”. But you neglect to mention that this was not because the food, service or atmosphere at the restuarant was bad but becuase you’d had root-canal treatment earlier that day and found it painful to eat. Imagine then giving the chef an ‘up-yours’ respsonse when he requested you clarify this.

Well, this sort of scenario is precisely what appears to have happened involving London’s mayor. Ken Livingstone is apparently not welcome on airline Silverjet after saying at a press conference upon landing in New York that it was “the worst flight of my life”. He neglected to add that this was because of delays at Luton and bad weather and no reflection on the airline. When Silverjet asked him to clarify this, he ignored them. This is a relatively new business investing millions in London and creating hundreds of jobs. Naturally it felt undermined. But it shouldn’t have been so naive as to expect a clarification or apology, however easily done, from a mean and spiteful mayor who appears to demonstrate his power simply because he can. Perhaps he gets a kick out of it.