Ken Livingstone at one stage promised to campaign in every London council byelection – and he’s certainly been to the vast majority, including hopeless Shortlands in Bromley (where Labour got 10%), Worcester Park in Sutton (11%), Southfields in Wandsworth (17%), and so on.
But there’s one byelection coming up the day after tomorrow which Ken has not so far managed to fit into his busy schedule – even though Labour has an able candidate, a big operation on the ground, and an excellent chance of gaining back a seat from the opposition. This seat, indeed, was won by Labour at the last council election with 43 per cent of the vote and a majority of more than 500, but the sitting Labour councillor defected to the opposition before being sacked from the council for housing benefit fraud.
Ken has been repeatedly asked by the Labour Party to come and help its candidate in this byelection. Sadly, according to local Labour councillors, he has refused, even though he knows the area all too well and has campaigned here before. The problem, you see, is that when Ken campaigned here before, it was… for the opposition, and against Labour.
This byelection is in Tower Hamlets – fiefdom of the Livingstone-backed and extremist-linked executive mayor, Lutfur Rahman, thrown out of the Labour Party for his close relationship with the Islamist group, the IFE. In this very ward, Spitalfields, Lutfur was himself once a councillor – and still maintains at least an official residence. In this very ward, Ken was filmed endorsing Lutfur and dissing Labour’s own candidate for the mayoralty, Helal Abbas.
In this same ward, Spitalfields, the IFE has helped secure some truly astonishing swings to Ken – from 29 per cent of the vote in the 2004 mayoral election to 68 per cent in the 2008 one – and with London voters in general proving resistant to the Livingstone message, that sort of assistance is especially badly needed as Ken’s own election day nears. No wonder there’s a conflict of loyalties!
“Both Josh Peck and Chris Weavers (Labour leader and organiser in Tower Hamlets) have asked Ken to come and campaign in Spitalfields,” said one Labour councillor. “He has refused. Instead, a couple of weekends ago, he went to a different part of the borough, the Roman Road, and wouldn’t come to Spitalfields.”
To be fair, Ken has consented (“reluctantly,” according to the councillor) to be photographed with Labour’s candidate in Spitalfields, Ala Uddin, for his election leaflet. At least, it looks like it – let’s hope Mr Uddin has not had to make do with one of those full-sized cardboard cut-outs (a la President Obama, Margaret Thatcher etc) that tourists like to pose with.
Lutfur – who is standing his former election agent, lately paid council “adviser,” Gulam Robbani, as the Rahman candidate in the byelection – also seems to be making that vital Ken connection. Mr Robbani’s main election leaflet (above) contains a fulsome endorsement of Livingstone. “Tower Hamlets is lucky to have a people’s mayor running the borough,” says the flyer. “But we also need a people’s mayor running the city. That’s why I am supporting Ken Livingstone…” More about Mr Robbani tomorrow, by the way.
Ken’s media diehards have been making explicit calls for Labour supporters – large numbers of whom will not support Ken – to show loyalty to the big man. But why should they? He still seems rather reluctant to be loyal to them.
Ken’s spokesman said: “Just two weeks ago, Ken campaigned for Labour in Roman Road and is looking forward to campaigning more in this and every borough in the weeks to come. With the Mayoral election so close, it has not been possible for Ken to campaign in every byelection in recent weeks. However, Ken has been photographed with the Labour candidate for this byelection, for use on campaign materials.”