Ken Livingstone comes to UCL to talk about London, Gaza, and Flushing the Toilet

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Readers will be pleased to be informed that despite the minor set-back of electoral defeat Ken Livingstone is not mellowing in either his ambition or in his aptitude for making outlandish statements! As someone who doesn’t listen to much radio apart from the essentials on Radio 4 I have never tuned in to Ken’s show on LBC, and apart from the odd newspaper column penned by the great man I have not heard much from him recently. Thus when I saw that he was being hosted by UCL Labour last Thursday I was keen to go along to get an earful of Ken.

And what an earful I got! The clichéd saying is that Ken Livingstone is one of those characters you either love or you love to hate. I would like to adopt a slightly more subtle position: there is much in Ken to admire, many of his policy prescriptions to political issues are spot on, and he is one of the great characters of the Left; but at the same time he does have a habit of sometimes making himself sound quite, quite mad.

Let us start with the positive stuff. When it comes to the ‘bread and butter’ responsibilities of the mayoralty Ken always had – and from what I heard on Thursday he continues to have – a clear understanding of how to use the office effectively in order to help Londoners. And let’s not beat about the bush here: it is poor Londoners especially that Ken wants to help. Setting the 50% affordable housing target, pushing for cheap and efficient public transport, having the guts to introduce the congestion charge, planning to use London’s successful Olympic bid as a means of raising government investment in the East End, these were all policies aimed at making London a fairer city, as well as a more prosperous city and a nicer place to live. Ken still rejects as “complete bollocks” the notion that wealth inevitably trickles down from the superrich and is somehow benevolently dispersed amongst the rest of society. He remains a firm believer in government-led redistribution, is optimistic that a red-green agenda can mitigate climate change whilst promoting social equality, and basically still espouses many of the views that put the wind in the sails of Captain Jako’s ship.

But then there is the other Ken. Combining a dig at Boris Johnson’s scruffy appearance at the Olympic handover ceremony in Beijing with a prediction of the future balance of power in the world, Ken started telling us that the Chinese government enjoyed majority support amongst the population, that the regime in Beijing don’t like being lectured to about human rights, and that China cannot accurately be described as a police state. Oh dear. Even though I might not necessarily disagree with any of those specific statements, I become slightly nauseous when I hear someone start to fawn over a government like the Chinese one.

In fact it is the realm of international affairs where I take most issue with Ken’s positions. Unfortunately this came up quite often during his time as Mayor since he did work hard on promoting a foreign policy for London sometimes quite distinct from that of the national government! When a UCL student asked him about Gaza this predictably set him off on one, and soon enough he was talking about the assistance Israel gets from a worldwide “Zionist machine”. Now imagine him saying this along with the funny whining sound that he routinely emits – “meeeeeeeeeh!” – as if he has a newt stuck in his nose. He comes across as eccentric, to say the least.

To clarify my own position: I think that there is an onus is on Israel, as the more powerful side with the disproportionate control of land and resources, to make drastic concessions in order to facilitate the creation of a viable Palestinian state. But I despair at how opinions on the Middle East situation mostly conform to a binary split – you are either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian – and how the voices most often heard on the issue tend to be characterised by the fiercest partisanship. My nauseous feeling swiftly returned when Ken skipped over any disagreements he might have with Hamas and instead said he could see why young Palestinians turn to violence. Fair enough Ken, I can empathise why Palestinians have their grief. But at the same time I would always ensure I clarify my view by stating that I do not sympathise with terrorist tactics or with the lunatic Islamist ideology driving Hamas militants. Ken has been one of the great campaigners against war and against racism in modern Britain – why can’t he equally condemn the Palestinians who choose to pursue their struggle through violent means and who portray that struggle in rabidly anti-Semitic terms?

Onto the somewhat lighter subject of how to save the planet from environmental catastrophe: Ken spent an unnervingly long time telling the audience how important it is not to flush the toilet after “a wee”. However, he did concede that flushing after a No.2 is probably a good idea. I look forward to Ken authoring a pamphlet on Scatological Socialism (perhaps Compass would publish it?). Here at Frank Owen’s Paintbrush we will certainly be taking this idea seriously and we will inform our loyal readers of the results.

Unfortunately your correspondent was not able to ask Ken a question. If I had I think I would have been interested to hear him explain to us why he feels the need to be Mayor again in 2012. If I was being provocative I might even have asked whether he would run again as an Independent if he did not win Labour’s selection. The Paintbrush posse will of course campaign enthusiastically for whichever comrade is the Labour Party candidate, but I think I speak for all of us when I say Ken does not have our automatic support. He had eight years in the job in which he did a lot of good work, but he also managed to irritate many. I suspect that Ken has been spending too much time with his buddy Hugo Chavez (for wants to amend the Venezuelan constitution so that he can run for President ad infinitum). Sometimes it is best to admit that you have had your time in the spotlight and that someone else should be given a chance. It will be interesting to see who else from the party ranks expresses an interest in the job and what policy proposals the potential candidates put forward. For now at least, the much-coveted Frank Owen’s Paintbrush endorsement is still up for grabs!

Captain Jako

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2 Responses to “Ken Livingstone comes to UCL to talk about London, Gaza, and Flushing the Toilet”

  1. Mike Giggler Says:

    Compass certainly should publish a pamphlet on ‘Scatological Socialism’ – they are always talking crap!

  2. vera Says:

    I’m not a Boris supporter but at least he come out and said that all bankers in London should donate their undeserved bonuses to the London Mayoral fun to be distributed amongst the deprived children of london. Why isn’t there more organised action against the banks,bankers and bonuses?

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