Ken claimed at last night’s Newsnight debate that the riots “might well not” have happened if he had been mayor. Apparently, unlike the evil Johnson in his Camper Van Of Shame, Ken would have hastened down to Tottenham to comfort the relatives of Mark Duggan, the alleged armed gangster shot by police, and all would then have been well.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember Livingstone doing anything like this in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, an indisputably unarmed and innocent man shot by the police on his watch (Ken’s actual response, you may recall, was to make excuses for the Met, denounce all criticism of it as “smears” – sound familiar? – and pronounce that “mistakes are always going to happen in wars and situations like this.”)
More broadly, this crass attempt to blame Boris for the riots reminds us of how badly, last summer, Ken missed his best chance since 2008 to turn the political tide. There was certainly political capital to be made – Boris, contrary to his claim last night, did not return from holiday “as soon as humanly possible,” and he also faced a great deal of anger when he did get back. As I wrote at the time, however, Livingstone’s desperate and clunky attempts to play politics while London still burned, describing the riots as a “revolt” against the Tory cuts, were far, far worse. He dug the hole a bit deeper last night, saying the rioters needed “someone who was on [their] side,” something quickly picked up by Johnson.
Livingstone was terrible last night, but Boris wasn’t great either. The best lines came, once again, from the Lib Dems’ Brian Paddick, who clearly shook Ken with challenges about his pandering to homophobes, anti-Semites and extremists. “You’re like a bad 1970s comedian,” Paddick told Ken. “You play to the audience when you think there’s votes in it.”
The Kenster made the inevitable attack on me – it’s extremely flattering how far I seem to have got inside the poor man’s head – claiming I’d made up his pledge to make London a “beacon” for the words of the Prophet Mohammed. Don’t forget you’re keeping it positive now, Ken! Here’s the video of that speech, just in case anyone fancies checking my honesty against Livingstone’s.
Jenny Jones, the Green candidate, was cross that I didn’t mention her in my report of a previous candidate debate. Apologies, Jenny – I didn’t mean to leave you out – but I disagree with the way this normally independent-minded politician often, in these debates, appears to be acting as an adjunct of the Livingstone campaign.
It was Jones, however, who extracted what might be the news line of last night: a suggestion, to which all the candidates agreed, that they open their tax returns and accounts for public scrutiny. Let’s hope it happens, shall we? But there are good grounds for thinking that it won’t.
It’s worth remembering that at the beginning of last week, Livingstone said on BBC London: “No journalist has contacted my accountant to ask anything about my tax arrangements. I’d be quite happy for them to do so.” Over the last ten days, I have repeatedly contacted both Ken’s accountant and his press officer to ask for Ken to honour this promise. I’ve been repeatedly stonewalled. Almost three weeks ago, I sent a series of specific questions about Ken’s tax to his press team. They flatly refuse to answer any of them.
Jones’s suggestion didn’t seem to come as a surprise to Livingstone, leaving the suspicious part of me wondering whether the two allies had cooked it up between them to allow Ken to release a dishonest, bowdlerised version of his accounts. As the reporter who first broke the story about Ken’s tax avoidance, I do know rather more than I’ve published so far about the great man’s income, so with any luck I’ll spot those sorts of games.