Ken Livingstone's special relationship with the Tube strikers

Ed Balls in conversation with Ken Livingstone (Photo: EPA)
Ed Balls in conversation with Ken Livingstone (Photo: EPA)

(Updated- with statement from Ken)

As the Tube unions start the first of four 24-hour strikes, that well-known fighter for Londoners, Ken Livingstone, has fallen oddly silent called on TfL to give way to the strikers. Perhaps that’s because his campaign to become Labour’s candidate for London Mayor is being run from the headquarters of one of the striking unions.

Ken’s campaign offices are at the Euston HQ of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), the same union which will bring station staff, signallers and supervisors out on strike from 9pm tonight. (Update Dec 2010 – In an interesting indication of his sensitivity about this, Ken has now quietly changed the contact page on his website to a c/o address. However, his actual TSSA HQ address is still shown on various items of his campaign material. The fact that he is using a forwarding address suggests that he is still with the TSSA. And if he should take any more things down, don’t worry, I’ve got printouts for anyone who needs them.)

Ken refused to deny today that he’d been getting free or reduced-rate offices from the union, calling the issue a “distraction” and saying: “The TSSA are supporting me because I pursued a transformation of the transport system in London.” He doesn’t seem to have registered the benefit with the Electoral Commission, either, as he’s obliged to.

During his campaign for the Labour nomination, Ken has fought hard for such relatively small groups as, say, Corporation of London fish porters (it’s pure coincidence, no doubt, that they’re represented by another of his union sponsors, Unite). But he hasn’t yet found time in his busy schedule to condemn the strikers and speak up for the millions of ordinary Londoners whose journeys will be disrupted today.

Ken has also, by the way, taken money from another Tube union, Aslef. They’re not on strike just now, but it’s doubtless only a matter of time. And, yes, I know he’s condemned Boris Johnson’s cuts to Tube ticket office staff, the trigger for the latest strikes. Boris’s breach of an election promise is regrettable. But Ken has unfortunately neglected to mention that when he was mayor, he proposed even greater cuts. And that was before the meltdown in the public finances.

It all adds up to Reason No 94 why, if Ken is selected as Labour’s candidate, he will almost certainly lose in 2012. He represents sectional interests, as opposed to the broader interests of Londoners.

Further update 4.50pm: Ken’s spokesman’s latest response to this story is to claim that the office has been provided under a “commercial arrangement” with the TSSA, although he admits that no money has changed hands. When asked if the “commercial arrangement” involved the payment of a market rent, he refused to respond, saying: “They will invoice us at the end of the campaign and you will see how much they are charging then.” I’ll take that as a no, I think!

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