Saturday 20 April 2024

Honouring Ken Livingstone


On Saturday 20th April Jan Woolf organised a 'Thanks Ken' afternoon at the Gatehouse pub theatre in London's Highgate.  Family and friends wanted to celebrate his life and honour his legacy as Mayor of London.  On sale was a pamphlet which included my conversation with him over a takeaway curry and contributions acknowledging his many achievements  as an honest, good and effective politician. A few are included below  

In Conversation with David Wilson]

My father used to tell me that you can always tell who is the honest politician. He’s the one wearing the pink hat. When leader of the Greater London Council, Margaret] Thatcher accused Ken of introducing an “eastern European” style “tyranny” for crimes such as lowering bus fares and organising anti-racist celebrations. When I met with him recently in  a north London restaurant, a woman sitting at a nearby table came over, shook his hand and thanked him for all he had done for her city. That was fifteen years after the end of his time as Mayor. The last word must be given to the man in the pink hat and this conversation over a take-away curry allows him to do just that.

DW How are you feeling, Ken?

KL I have a very bad memory. My diagnosis is ‘early onset dementia and

Alzheimer’s disease’ and ‘just the beginning’. I also have arthritic knees, but

my earlier cancers (expand) haven’t amounted to anything. Other than that,

my doctor tells me I’m in good health. But I’m an old man now. How old

are you?

DW The same age as you.

KL At the time you and I were born, the average life expectancy was 63. We

are products of the Welfare State and our marvellous National Health Service.

DW I’d like to ask you a few questions. Maybe the best place to start is with

your health.

KL Might be very short because I might not be here much longer.

DW You mustn’t talk like that. We’re here while we are here. Chrysippus,

a Stoic philosopher, said ‘Where there is life there is no death, and where

there is death there is no life.’ And he died from a fit of laughter. Are you a

happy person?

KL I am right now. It’s very nice to get out and socialise. I spend so much

time at home reading and watching documentaries as nobody contacts me

for work since I was accused of anti-semitism.

DW You used to write a food column for the Evening Standard, but you’ve

hardly touched your curry. Why?

KL I’ve lost my appetite. I eat a banana for breakfast. At lunch I have some

prawns or fried onion rings with salad and the same for dinner.

DW And drink?

KL I go to the pub every day and like to meet other old men who don’t have

a workplace any more. I enjoy maybe two or three beers during the day.

DW You talk about your own extinction, but you were quoted a few weeks

ago saying that you thought humans would be extinct this century. Can you

say more?

KL I know that sounds dramatic, but all politicians must take this seriously

– it’s the biggest issue we face – it dwarfs everything else. When people do

things right, like cities introducing the congestion charge and ULEZ type

schemes, set up wind farms, reduce plastics and recycle, it gives people

a sense of agency, and we must praise these actions and be positive. But

it’s the politicians who are not doing enough. Now it’s about promoting

themselves and getting rich, and it’s at the expense of the environment, like

the destroyed forests and new oil extractions in the ocean. Governments

should be investing green with laser panels, etc, rather than seek to make

themselves and their friends rich. If I wasn’t an old man with arthritis and

early onset’, I’d be out with Just Stop Oil.

DW You are on record as saying that this government is the worst in our life-

time. What should Keir Starmer be prioritising to help the working people

of this country?

KL I see that Keir is now chatting away with Tony Blair. Might they discuss

a massive redistribution of wealth by cracking down on all the tax dodgers?

that we don’t increase tax on ordinary people, but on the corporations

and super rich? He should be reinstating child benefit for all children as

it’s working class people and different ethnic groups that have the bigger

families. Keir should just be a proper socialist and dismiss the legacy of Blair

who stopped the Labour Party being a socialist party.

DW As GLC leader and Mayor of London, your legacy seems to be secure

as the London politician whose progressive policies made a real difference to

the lives of ordinary Londoners.

KL Of course I was always controversial. Break the word down – contra-

versial means an opposing story. I had different policies from many in

the establishment – whether Conservative or Labour – and had to fight

democratically to get them through. As leader of the GLC, my Fares Fair policy

and Freedom Passes for the elderly are examples, and as Mayor the congestion

charge and efficient city transport. My transition from GLC leader to Mayor

is well documented in my books, Livingstone’s London (Muswell Press), Being

Red (Left Book Club) and my autobiography You Can’t Say That (Faber). Let’s

just say, as a working class Londoner, I fought for progressive policies for all

Londoners, whether they were born here or not. The policies and details of

political shenanigans to get to power to get them through are all in the books.

I think I’ll have some of that rice and dal now.

DW As Mayor of London, you played an important role internationally,

speaking out for peace and reconciliation. What is your take on the

international situation right now?

KL I want to return to this. The biggest climate polluter on the planet is

the war machine. Governments need to be doing all they can for peace,

not stoking war scenarios that only benefit the arms manufacturers. No

government in the world is tackling climate change. I’m so worried about

my kids. We grew up in a world where there were socialist governments

everywhere, and even conservative governments were making concessions

to the working class. Churchill actually said you either give people reform,

or they will take it in the form of revolution.

DW Thank you very much.

KL You’re welcome. I just love talking about myself. It helps me remember

what I did. These days I have to check my autobiography to find out. Another


DW Yes please

Richard Kuper, publisher, Dartmouth Park

Ken’s period at the GLC was an inspiration. Constantly on the radio and

in the news, he was always able to explain what he was doing in simple, no-

nonsense terms. No-one could box him into a corner. To put it another way

– with a hat tip to Antonio Gramsci – he made socialist ideas and policies

sound like the common sense they were (and are). He was a real leader, not

out for self-aggrandisement but using power to empower others, encouraging

and facilitating people’s ability to organise themselves. And always willing to

stick two fingers up to the Tories in the nicest possible way. Just by being at

the GLC. As the title of his book would have it, “If voting changed anything

they’d abolish it”. As they did.

Merilyn Moos, writer, retired teacher, Archway

I’m glad you were willing to stand up against John Mann’s Zionist onslaught

against you. As you said at the time, “There’s been a very well-orchestrated

campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticised Israeli policy

as anti-semitic.”

Matthew Deveraux, performer, teacher, Archway

Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “All truth passes through three stages: First,

it is ridiculed; second, it is opposed; and third, it is accepted as self-evident.”

This puts me in mind of many of the innovative policies of Livingstone when

in office, both as leader of the GLC and later as Mayor of London.

Keirion Carroll

It was 1984 and I was going on my first Gay march. was  sure all straight men hated gays and then came along Ken Livingstone.Ken didn’t just tolerate gays he actually supported us and believed we were equal to all. A straight man that didn’t hate us was new to me. And he became like a father figure, unlike our own fathers who  had disowned many of us. I began to feel that maybe I didn’t need to feel  ashamed anymore that if one regular man could see meas equal  then why not more. I dared to dream. With Ken's support  we  were fearless.