Ken Livingstone: Dreams From My Grandfather

Thrilled to see that Ken Livingstone maintains his sure political touch! His new campaign slogan (“Yes We Ken”) instantly shoots the ex-King Newt to top place in the bulging league table of World’s Worst Barack Obama Comparisons. If you were young, new, the change, and – well – black, it might work, Ken. But you are a 64-year-old grandad who has been in full-time politics since 1971.

I’ve been searching Ken’s campaign website for further evidence of that elusive Obama magic. I found this little section puffing his work in the recent general election, which lists the candidates he supported with personal visits. Like Val Shawcross, twice (she lost), Gerry Ryan (another defeat, alas), Dawn Butler, twice (beaten), Tony McNulty (trounced), Karen Jennings, twice (another loser.)

Can you spot a pattern here? True, Ken did also visit Eltham, Tooting, Hampstead and Westminster North, where Labour held on. But in 9 of the 12 individual constituency visits he made (Hampstead included), the Labour candidate suffered well above-average swings against him or her. This despite a comparatively good showing by the party in London.

I shouldn’t think it was the presence of Kenbama on their high streets that drove those Labour voters into the hands of the opposition – but nor does he seem to be the great vote-magnet he imagines.

PS: Ken was kind enough to let me repeat some of these views on his LBC radio show at the weekend, where the balance of callers was, shall we say, against a Livingstone re-run.

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Ken Livingstone: scourge of the bankers?

Looking through Ken Livingstone’s campaign promises at his launch yesterday (a gas-guzzler charge, closer diplomatic relations between London and China, etc) I realised, with a sense of wonder, that if selected as Labour’s candidate he really is going to re-fight the 2008 election on the 2008 manifesto.

But among all the much-loved (if not quite loved enough to secure him re-election) old policies, there is something new. Ken now lashes the rich and promises to be “not a mayor defending bankers.”

There was, of course, once a London mayor who fervently defended the worst of banking greed and excess. In 2008, just six months before the crash, that  mayor furiously attacked his own chancellor, Alistair Darling, for trying to make non-doms in the City pay even a token amount of tax, saying he was “deeply opposed” to the idea.

In 2006, that mayor wrote that “the light regulation [of the financial services industry] … is the cornerstone of London’s success,” and demanded it be “defended against any challenges.” That mayor insisted (rather poignantly in view of what happened next) that “professional institutional markets, such as New York and London, have the most sophisticated financial workforces in the world. These should be allowed to assess risk.”

That mayor was called Ken Livingstone, too. I wonder what happened to him?

Ken Livingstone, the religion of the Pope and the sanitary habits of bears in woods

The worst-kept secret in showbiz is out (again): Gary Glitter, sorry Ken Livingstone, has today formally launched his 2012 comeback tour.

This follows Ken’s earlier declarations that he is to seek Labour’s mayoral candidate nomination on 10 June 2008, 29 June 2008, 2 July 2008, 3 July 2008, 14 July 2008, 18 July 2008, 11 November 2008, 24 Feb 2009, 19 March 2009, 18 May 2009, 21 September 2009, 4 January 2010, 19 January 2010, and 12 May 2010.

Today’s event in Croydon (you get the overground train from Victoria, Ken), will, by my count, be at least the 15th time that Ken/Gary has announced his intention to stand for mayor at the next election, but that can’t stop the excitement! (Actually, perhaps it can: at the time of writing, even the main three Ken groupie blogs haven’t published anything on the launch. Even Ken’s own website, Progressive London, hasn’t….)

His platform appears something of a reprise of old favourites, but the big pitch is on bus fares. This is brave, given Ken’s own record on the subject. A single Osyter bus fare “has risen by a staggering one third” under Boris, stormed the candidate this morning. Staggering, indeed, Ken. Why, almost as staggering as the 42% increase in the Oyster bus single fare (from 70p to £1) which you introduced between 2005 and 2007 – with a 25 per cent hike in the off-peak fare in January 2007 alone.

Ken subsequently cut the single fare to 90p in a pre-election ploy, but then made a secret agreement with his transport chiefs to impose above-inflation fare rises after the election, while telling Londoners and the Assembly that he was going to freeze them.

The most interesting thing today was the list of supporters Ken published. It  only includes three of London’s 38 Labour MPs, two of its eight London Assembly members and four of its 17 Labour council leaders.

Perhaps Ken is rolling the names out gradually – but as far as I can see, today’s list contains only one more MP supporter, and two more council leaders, than the names published in a letter to the Guardian last week. The big-name signing he announced this morning was someone from one of the aforesaid groupie blogs.

Ken’s tally of three MPs is probably an understatement of his backing in the PLP, but not by much. And his lack of support among other Labour people who have been more successful at winning elections than him does suggest that there is considerable scope for a heavyweight challenge. Whether that will happen is still moot.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the accelerated timetable – with nominations closing in only three weeks’ time and the candidate selected in September – greatly favours Ken. As of last week, Labour sources tell me, three weighty potential rivals were considering running – but that doesn’t mean that they will, or that they’re ready to. We’ll know soon enough.