I had a little chat with Ken Livingstone on his LBC radio show on Saturday, discussing my view that the old chap has already thrown away his best card against the Tories – the cuts – by saying that there need be no cuts at all and that the deficit (in his words at the Southall hustings) is a “scare.” Neither proposition is remotely credible with the voters Ken is theoretically trying to woo.
Ken contradicted himself within the space of about ten minutes – first denying that he had said there need be no cuts (“it’s not my position”), then saying: “I’m planning to stop any more cuts… I will be seeking a mandate saying London’s had enough of these cuts, it has to stop.” In Monday’s Standard, he said something very similar to my former colleague, Pippa Crerar: “It is vital that the Labour Party learns from the mistakes of New Labour and sets out a new direction. This means investing in public services and new jobs, fighting the cuts and building hundreds of thousands of new homes.”
As I’ve always said, the cuts could be a very fruitful issue for Labour: there’s a real question about whether the coalition is cutting too much, too fast and in the wrong places. But Ken seems quite determined to cede this essential ground to the Tories.
It’s not the only hostage to fortune Team Boris Johnson will gratefully stockpile from this week: at tonight’s Tribune rally at Labour conference, Ken wowed the faithful with praise of the unions. “We [the Labour Party] are all creatures of the trades unions again, thank God,” he said, to laughter and applause. Later: “The single most important right we have, after the right to vote, is the right to strike.”
Ken did add that the right to strike shouldn’t be “used casually” – but his backing for the recent Tube strikers (and his receipt of favours from them) won’t have helped his re-election chances. One of Ken’s key weaknesses has been that he is perceived as speaking for special interests, often rather unpopular ones, rather than for London as a whole.
Later on Wednesday- Ken’s big day on the conference platform. But for me, the King Newt moment of the week came during my interview on his LBC show, when he was forced to read out a promo for a competition to win “an amazing Sky 3D package… to celebrate the launch of the UK’s first 3D channel on Sky. Don’t miss it.”
Ken Livingstone as a salesman for Rupert Murdoch – now there’s something I never thought I’d hear!