One of the risks for Ken Livingstone, lacking as he is in self-awareness, is that he becomes a figure of fun. The old boy’s dogged determination to stick it to Boris Johnson for his links to Murdoch – even though Ken himself had far closer links – gave the Tories an open goal at Wednesday’s Mayoral question time in the London Assembly.
With Ken looking on from the gallery, this was supposed to be the moment when Labour finally nailed the evil Johnson regime. Instead, after a serious 20 minutes about the awfulness of News International’s behaviour, it became a double-act between Boris and the Tory assembly members at the expense of that much-loved vaudeville turn, K.Livingstone Esq.
Andrew Boff (Tory AM): I think it’s very important to ensure that the mayoralty cannot be compromised by undue influence. Bearing in mind when [the hacking] took place [during Ken’s term of office], can I ask the mayor to look into the meetings the previous Mayor had with News International?
Boris (grinning broadly): Is this the guy who’s been popping up attacking me for having meetings with journalists?
Boff (innocently): Oh, I wasn’t aware – did he comment?… Could you also, Mr Mayor, look into any contracts that may have been entered into with the Murdoch dynasty?
Boris (mock surprise): Contracts? Involving taxpayers’ money?
Boff: Yes, contracts with the Murdoch dynasty, with Freud Communications [owned by Murdoch’s son-in-law].
Boris (mock incredulity): You’re joking!… I think it would be unbelievable and monstrously hyprocritical, would it not, if the previous Mayor, having broken bread with the hirelings and the leaders of Rupert Murdoch’s group, were then to attack any other person for doing so…wouldn’t it be an unbelievably opportunistic thing to do?
Boff: I think, I’m not sure, that the contract includes a jolly to China that the previous Mayor took.
Boris: Was GLA taxpayers’ money being paid to the Murdoch dynasty?
Boff: I think it was, Mr Mayor.
Boris: That’s unbelievable. What, you mean the thing I terminated as soon as I got in? I think you’ve opened a very fruitful avenue of enquiry! (Laughter)
Labour’s Len Duvall pointed out that what he called “Fraud Communications” was not part of News International. But then in came Dick Tracey on Ken’s relationship with NI itself.
Tracey: Talking about boot-licking News International, do you know there have been 26 bylined articles in NI newspapers since the hacking scandal broke in July 2009? The byline, Mr Mayor, is Ken Livingstone.
Boris (putting on serious expression): You’re joking. I sincerely hope no payment was received! It would be unbelievable, would it not, if cash actually went from agencies of the Murdoch empire into [Ken’s] pockets. Do you think that can have happened?