Ken Livingstone: I'm a great uniting figure

One of Ken Livingstone’s most appealing qualities (to his enemies) is his absolute refusal to learn from his mistakes, or indeed even admit making any. The second element of his BBC London interview with Tim Donovan the other week saw him closely questioned about whether he had changed any of the things that put Londoners off him in 2008. No, appeared to be the answer. My defeat was other people’s fault, not mine. Let’s hope the voters see it the same way, shall we?

Here’s an extract:

DONOVAN: Put aside policy and ideas, isn’t the big problem one of mood and perception – you’re the past, you’ve done it, but London’s moved on? … What is it you can offer and provide for Londoners now?

LIVINGSTONE: One really good thing is that I don’t hit the ground and have to spend two years working out how to do the job, as Boris has done. I go straight in knowing what to do, and mine will be in a sense the midterm election, like they have in America. So the first chance for London to say, we think the cuts have gone too deep and too far.

DONOVAN: Just a referendum on the cuts? But what about you, as an individual offering, having had two terms and London’s moved on?

LIVINGSTONE: And the whole world’s moved on. I was lucky enough to be mayor whilst the Labour government was rebuilding public services. I will be coming into that office, if I’m lucky enough to win, after four years of cuts in London. The rest of the country’s only had two years. Boris cut deeper and faster. They bragged about it. And it will be time to say, enough is enough.

DONOVAN: Have you changed? Are you going to do things differently?

LIVINGSTONE: Oh, it’s a different world. I will be facing a different government. A lot of people think, is this going to be like the conflict between Ken and Thatcher. It isn’t, because I’m not facing Thatcher. We’re facing a fairly dysfunctional government –

DONOVAN: But have you changed, in your approach?

LIVINGSTONE: Everyone changes all the time.

DONOVAN: So how would you say you have changed?

LIVINGSTONE: If you look at, if you compare the situation when I was the leader of the GLC, and then the mayoralty, they were very different times, and a very different response.

DONOVAN: But then are you likely to be in – do you accept you are a divisive figure?

LIVINGSTONE: No, no, I think I’m a great uniting figure. Here in London –

DONOVAN: (Laughing slightly) You don’t think you’re a divisive figure?

LIVINGSTONE: I will be saying these cuts have gone too far, too deep, it’s time to stop. And I think that unites about 90% of Londoners who want to keep the local copper, who don’t want to have fare increases higher than inflation –

DONOVAN: And we’ll talk about that. When you look back, though, do you not think one of the reasons – the main reason – for you losing was because people had had enough? You were regarded as divisive.

LIVINGSTONE: I did have the misfortune to be facing an election just as the British economy went into recession, that didn’t help. And the internal polling the party did showed that Labour’s figures, and mine, went off a precipice after the Budget, when the 10p tax band was wiped out, because that hit at those Londoners who are hanging on to low-paid jobs. They felt the pain of that, and I’ve got –

DONOVAN: Are you just blaming – was it just the state of the party, and Labour, that lost the last election?

LIVINGSTONE: Let’s be honest, it was Labour’s worst result for 60 years.

DONOVAN: But was it just that? Labour’s just lost an election, and we find all the shadow cabinet saying we’ve got to learn the lessons, we’ve been rejected. I haven’t heard anything yet that Ken Livingstone was to blame.

LIVINGSTONE: If you want to come around with me, I’m spending a day in each of the 32 London boroughs –

DONOVAN: I’m talking about then. Sorry, we’ll move on to the future, but then – why Labour, and why you, lost?

LIVINGSTONE: Because we were deeply unpopular. We’d been in office for too long –

DONOVAN: What about you? Would you admit there were any flaws in the way you approached the job?

LIVINGSTONE: Can I say, I don’t spend my time agonising about the past. My view is that if you get defeated, you pick yourself up, and you get on and you come back.

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