Ken Livingstone: An insight from within the bunker

Redmond O’Neill, one of Ken Livingstone’s most important political aides at City Hall during the last mayoralty, died last month, an event which produced many strong and heartfelt tributes from senior figures. Tim O’Toole, for instance, former managing director of the Tube, praised his “kindness, his gentle soul and his rigorous mind.”

A rather different perspective, however, comes from several of the less elevated GLA toilers with whom O’Neill dealt. This no-holds-barred piece by Bob Pitt, another former mayoral staffer, sheds light not just on O’Neill but on one of the broader weaknesses of the Ken administration. Pitt writes:

“I know it’s not done to speak ill of the dead, but in the case of Redmond O’Neill, who played a prominent role in the London mayor’s office during the eight years that Ken Livingstone held power, I feel an exception should be made…

“Having had some experience of working with him in the mayor’s office during 2004-8, I saw another side to O’Neill, namely the abuse and bullying of staff for which he became notorious at City Hall. It was the kind of behaviour you would expect from the worst sort of manager in the worst private sector company. Yet it took place under an administration that was supposed to be pursuing a progressive agenda and the individual responsible for this behaviour claimed to be a socialist…

“This was why many staff at City Hall had mixed feelings about Ken’s defeat. They were sorry for Ken that he lost the election, and understood that it was a big setback for progressive politics in London, but they really didn’t want people like O’Neill coming back for another four years…

“There are not a few PAs, portering staff and other non-political employees who actually find it pleasanter working under Boris Johnson’s administration than under Ken’s. On a one-to-one basis they are at least treated with some basic respect and civility, which is more than they got from O’Neill and those around him.”

Pitt’s (accurate) thesis is that this treatment inspired many GLA staff to help me and others with our journalistic investigations, sorry “witchhunt”, into the Livingstone City Hall; and he makes a broader point about the politics of those around the then Mayor.

O’Neill and most of Ken’s other key people were members of a Trotskyist sect, Socialist Action; and though the GLA’s policies were not Trotskyist, its centralist, controlling methods certainly were. As Pitt says:

“The problem was that O’Neill and other individuals who had spent decades running a small Trotskyist group on that basis suddenly found themselves at the head of a much bigger and broader organisation, where they antagonised and repelled people by importing the arrogant, top-down, authoritarian culture that characterises the internal life of the far-left sect.”

Pitt, a long-time member of the Left who now works for a Labour member of the London Assembly, simply cannot be dismissed as another evil member of the Right-wing lie machine. I agree with (almost) everything he says.

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