Today was Ken Livingstone Day on Radio 4’s Today Programme.
First, there was a report on what by now are the familiar concerns about Ken Livingstone’s leadership: the huge grants to “business” which appear to have done nothing at all, the taxpayer-funded smear campaign against Trevor Phillips, and the politicisation of senior civil service positions. [Listen again here]
That was followed by an interview with Kate Hoey, the Labour MP for Vauxhall, who has long shared these concerns. She pointed out something which anybody who has ever run up against Ken Livingstone knows: cross him, and you’ll be denounced by his minions as a racist.
There then followed an interview with Ken Livingstone. I encourage you to listen to it.
Forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, but Ken Livingstone’s argument appears to proceed as follows.
1. Yes, I operate a ‘spoils’ system of government, where my political allies are appointed to the top jobs.
2. I didn’t design the system. I thought it provided insufficient accountability. Indeed, I argued against it.
3. However, it does mean that I can get things done, rather than spend all my time fighting with ‘Sir Humphry’ like civil servants.
4. If you don’t like my civil servants, vote me out and they’ll all be gone.
I have to say, the final stage of the argument seems like a rather dangerous thing for a politician to be saying, round about election time.
There was something almost elegiac about Ken Livingstone’s performance. He seemed, at times, like a latter-day Coriolanus: refusing to display his scars to the crowds.
Questioned about the propriety of the taxpayer-funded knifing of Trevor Phillips by GLA employees and taxpayer funded consultants, led by Lee Jasper, Ken Livingstone was bold. It was proper to campaign against Phillips because he opposed the Mayor’s conception of multiculturalism. Therefore, the orchestrating of attacks on Phillips by black activists, associated with Lee Jasper, was quite all right and perfectly within the Mayor’s powers and responsibilities.
Pressed on the political campaigning for Ken Livingstone by his senior civil service Socialist Action appointees, Ken argued that it was unfair to prevent such people from engaging in political activity in their “spare time”. He then pointed out – laughably – that the separation between an officials GLA duties and campaiging role was well illustrated by Atma Singh’s admission that he had to step outside the GLA building to take calls related to fundraising.
The tone of Ken Livingstone’s responses throughout interview was odd. Listen to it and see if you agree. His defence seemed lacklustre, almost as if he wasn’t convinced by it himself. At times, Ken Livingstone appeared to blame Tony Blair for having given him so much power.
‘Are you surprised that this is what it has done to me’, he almost seemed to be saying.