Ken Livingstone’s decision last year to campaign against his own party and for a man, Lutfur Rahman, expelled by Labour for his links to Islamic extremism, puzzled many people. There didn’t seem much in it for Ken. Indeed, it is likely to cost him votes. Lutfur won the election as an independent and his fiefdom is fulfilling the gloomy predictions made about it – most recently with unprecedented outbreaks of homophobic hatred in the council chamber.
Now I think I can help solve the mystery. Whenever Ken endorses someone questionable (think, for example, of his role as a presenter on Iranian state TV, defending the Tehran regime) it’s usually because they’ve paid him.
Last February, Freedom of Information requests now reveal, Tower Hamlets council, under Lutfur’s leadership before he was expelled, gave Ken £2,000 of public money for an evening’s work. It was a “personal appearance” at an event to mark National Apprenticeship Week. Nice apprenticeship if you can get it!
Other personality recipients of Tower Hamlets’ largesse under Lutfur were Barbara Windsor (£13,000), Esther Rantzen (£4,000), the comedian Shoppi Khorsandi (£8,050) and the child advocate Camila Batmanghelidjh (£1,000). You’ll notice that all the others are either celebrities or charities. Ken, however, was a working politician seeking re-election as Mayor. Ken may indeed have brought (unintentional) merriment to millions – but is he really worth twice Camila Batmanghelidjh, or indeed a sixth of Barbara Windsor?
PS A fascinating insight into Livingstone fans’ sensitivities over the extremist issue was provided the other day in a piece by Adam Bienkov, one of Ken’s online groupies, who glosses the great man’s activities in this area as “support for Islam.” It’s not Ken’s “support for Islam” that anyone serious objects to, is it? It’s his support for a particular kind of Islam.