His much expected landslide had just been made official, and Ken Livingston stepped to the mike: "As I was saying fourteen years ago, before I was so rudely interrupted..."
If that moment didn't make you smile, then you are in a political coma. Lady Thatcher, who dissolved Livingston's Greater London Council in 1986, is somewhere between disrepute and the high-end lecture circuit, while Livingston is back as an international figure and, if not in control of the reigns of power, at least in control of the leanest, meanest bully pulpit this side of Fidel Castro. That moment of victory over both Thatcher and the New Labour Party establishment was a plum sliver of sweetest revenge. Who knows what it means, but yum.
You hate Red Ken or you love him. It is hard to believe that his widespread support represents merely protest against Tony Blair and his Spam choice of candidates, Frank Dobson. If that were the case, people would have done what they usually do when confronted by less than inspiring politicians: sit on their arses. The public likes Ken Livingston--their own "Mr. London"--because he is very funny, very smart, and very left. Most people support at least one of the groups that famously received public funds from the London Council under Livingston in the 1980s. They include: Babies Against the Bomb, the English Prostitutes Collective, the Union of Turkish Workers, the Homosexual Memorial Project, the Colonial Liberation Movement, and the Women's Peace Bus.
Such groups may not jive with Tory sensibilities, but who would deny that babies are against bombs? That prostitutes or Turkish immigrants should have a union? Do these groups not represent legitimate interests of the people of London? Ken's rainbow vision of London is more real than the pinstriped soddenness of the Chamber of Commerce. And you don't have to be a gay Turkish prostitute to know it.
But if you can't rally behind any of these groups, then everyone can catch the train behind some of Livingston's more refreshing--or, depending on your politics, extremist--comments. Culled from recent press reports, they include:
- "The IRA is fighting for the national freedom."
- "I've always favored a single European currency."
- "I hate cars. If I ever get any powers again, I'd ban the lot."
- "I've met serial killers and professional assassins, and nobody has scared me as much as Mrs. Thatcher."
- "I think socialism's time is still to come."
- "Every year the international financial system kills more people than World War II did."
Scared? New Labour thought Londoners would be, and tried to paint Livingston Stalin Red. But the redder they painted him the more popular he became. Is that why the word populism is so close to popular? Maybe people don't like cars as much as the car industry would like us to believe. Maybe the average guy on the street is a little bummed out by the excesses of capitalism and the way his food stamps were taken away from him to support tax cuts for the rich. Maybe the average woman on the street likes her job at the Underground and the benefits that come with it, and maybe she knows enough about privatization to know that investors may not be as generous as the state, which is accountable to the public. Maybe people weren't so much protesting Blair when they voted Ken, but were endorsing a different vision of the world. Just maybe.