Ken Livingstone's 'shallow populism'

Thinking people in the Labour Party – in which group I include the leadership – know that Labour is not profiting from the Tories’ failures in government because it does not offer a credible alternative. Last week, the shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy attacked the “shallow and temporary” populism of promising no spending cuts. This morning, Gavin Kelly, a former Downing Street adviser, said that Labour must “unlearn” the old model of politics as a competition about who could shower the most goodies on people.

In September, Ed Balls said: “No matter how much we dislike particular Tory spending cuts or tax rises, we cannot make promises now to reverse them…We will never have credibility unless we have the discipline and the strength to take tough decisions.”

All these comments could have been directed at the one key figure in Labour who appears to believe that politics can be conducted as if it was still 2008, or indeed 1978. In his campaign, Ken Livingstone has so far promised to:

–         cut transport fares by 7 per cent, then freeze them in real terms;

–         reverse cuts to the police;

–         “freeze the council tax for four years;”

–         consider further subsidies for student travel;

–         maintain all capital spending projects, including Crossrail;

–         start work on major new capital projects, including:

–         second and third Crossrail lines;

–         a tramline from Brixton to Camden Town;

–         a second Thames Barrier;

–         a tram network from Wembley and Ealing to Wood Green;

–         a tram extension from Beckenham to Crystal Palace.

All this at a time when the GLA’s Whitehall grant is being reduced by 20 per cent.

On October 27, claiming to be “in favour of balanced budgets,” Ken specifically rejected a 7 per cent fares cut, saying: “When we plough through the budget and we’d gone for 7 per cent we might have found in that final year there would be a deficit and I’m not prepared to take that risk.”

Just five weeks later, he announced a 7 per cent fares cut.

Earlier last year – at a time when he was still promising that fares would be increased in line with the rate of inflation – Ken was asked how he was going to pay for his promises. He replied: “The morning after the election, I’ll let you know.”

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