Reason No. 922 why Ken Livingstone will never be Mayor of London again

… is that he is an apologist, and possibly worse, for the fundamentalists of the East London Mosque and the Islamic Forum of Europe. As my story in yesterday’s Telegraph describes, in 2008 IFE members “got out the vote” for Ken – to an astonishing, indeed miraculous degree. In one Tower Hamlets ward, Spitalfields, Ken’s vote share rose from 29.6 per cent in 2004 – an election he won – to 68.4 per cent in 2008, an election he lost. A rise of nearly 39 percentage points.

By complete coincidence, in the years running up to this election triumph, Ken’s London Development Agency (that is, taxpayers) paid the mosque £1.3 million – including £500,000 to help build the IFE a new headquarters – even though LDA officials were firmly against the latter payment, making clear their “major concerns” about the project.

Even on the remaining £800,000, supposedly for job creation, leaked LDA minutes from 2008 show that the mosque missed its targets by a mile. Never mind – the targets were simply changed and the contract duly extended for another two years!

That City Hall funding is about to end – and I’ll be watching the new Boris Johnson regime very closely to see if it gives any more. If it does, I think you can rely on a story being written about it. Not a penny of our money should go to an institution that hosts extremist and hate preachers as regularly as the East London Mosque.

PS: I hear, by the way, that poor Ken was pretty angry with me on Friday’s Any Questions for having the temerity to point all this out – and I’m also told he had another one of his fortnightly pops at me on his LBC show on Saturday, too. Froth away as much as you like, old chap. Not even most Muslims support this crowd, and every time you defend people like these, you lose another five thousand votes.

PPS: But, in an interesting sign of Ken’s sensitivity about this issue, the name of Azad Ali, the IFE’s community affairs co-ordinator, has been quietly removed from the list of those who spoke at the annual conference of Ken’s re-election vehicle, Progressive London, on 30 January this year. (He spoke in the “There is no progressive imperialism” session, 11.45- 1.15, in case you were wondering.) Glad to see that Lutfur Rahman, the leader of Tower Hamlets council, who refuses to deny that he gained his post with the assistance of the IFE, still makes the cut, though!

Don’t worry, Ken – I’ve got printouts of the unbowdlerised speaker list, I covered the story in the Telegraph (as did the Mail on Sunday  – complete with picture) and I’ll be around to remind your would-be voters when the time comes.

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Ken Livingstone: another rival emerges?

THE race to take on Boris Johnson has another entrant – James Purnell. At least, that’s according to the Labour peer and former Met Police Authority chair, Toby Harris, on his blog. Harris’s “spies” tell him that the intentions of the former work and pensions secretary, who’s leaving Parliament, “are clear – he wants to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor in 2012.”

Harris, a former Labour leader on the London Assembly, is reasonably well connected in London Labour circles – though in the same post he doesn’t help his credentials as a political seer by describing a Tory victory at the general election as “unlikely”. If what he says is true, it’s further encouraging evidence that Labour is not sleepwalking into the suicide option of re-selecting the 2008 candidate to re-fight the 2008 election.

Purnell couldn’t be reached for comment last night, but some of his actions since announcing his departure from the Commons aren’t inconsistent with future involvement in mayoral politics. He’s going to do a course in community organising with the excellent London Citizens, potentially useful people to know I’d have thought, and there’s talk (a la Peter Hyman, Tony Blair’s former aide) of doing some teaching in a London school.

However, I get just a faint sense that Harris’s piece is about closing down, not encouraging, any potential Purnell candidacy. He talks about Purnell’s “conspicuous (to him, at least) talents” and snipes that Purnell is “nothing if not ambitious. He can claim to be a Londoner. He was an Islington councillor for nearly two years. What more qualification would he need?”

Already, with more than two years to go till polling day, a series of names other than Ken Livingstone has started to come into the frame – Diane Abbott, Peter Mandelson and so on. You can sense the growing distress of Ken diehards, touchingly determined that their washed-up hero be given one more chance to lose an election. Perhaps Harris’s blog post is no more than another manoeuvre by the forces of King Newt to clear the field for his inevitable 2012 oblivion.

Ken Livingstone: An insight from within the bunker

Redmond O’Neill, one of Ken Livingstone’s most important political aides at City Hall during the last mayoralty, died last month, an event which produced many strong and heartfelt tributes from senior figures. Tim O’Toole, for instance, former managing director of the Tube, praised his “kindness, his gentle soul and his rigorous mind.”

A rather different perspective, however, comes from several of the less elevated GLA toilers with whom O’Neill dealt. This no-holds-barred piece by Bob Pitt, another former mayoral staffer, sheds light not just on O’Neill but on one of the broader weaknesses of the Ken administration. Pitt writes:

“I know it’s not done to speak ill of the dead, but in the case of Redmond O’Neill, who played a prominent role in the London mayor’s office during the eight years that Ken Livingstone held power, I feel an exception should be made…

“Having had some experience of working with him in the mayor’s office during 2004-8, I saw another side to O’Neill, namely the abuse and bullying of staff for which he became notorious at City Hall. It was the kind of behaviour you would expect from the worst sort of manager in the worst private sector company. Yet it took place under an administration that was supposed to be pursuing a progressive agenda and the individual responsible for this behaviour claimed to be a socialist…

“This was why many staff at City Hall had mixed feelings about Ken’s defeat. They were sorry for Ken that he lost the election, and understood that it was a big setback for progressive politics in London, but they really didn’t want people like O’Neill coming back for another four years…

“There are not a few PAs, portering staff and other non-political employees who actually find it pleasanter working under Boris Johnson’s administration than under Ken’s. On a one-to-one basis they are at least treated with some basic respect and civility, which is more than they got from O’Neill and those around him.”

Pitt’s (accurate) thesis is that this treatment inspired many GLA staff to help me and others with our journalistic investigations, sorry “witchhunt”, into the Livingstone City Hall; and he makes a broader point about the politics of those around the then Mayor.

O’Neill and most of Ken’s other key people were members of a Trotskyist sect, Socialist Action; and though the GLA’s policies were not Trotskyist, its centralist, controlling methods certainly were. As Pitt says:

“The problem was that O’Neill and other individuals who had spent decades running a small Trotskyist group on that basis suddenly found themselves at the head of a much bigger and broader organisation, where they antagonised and repelled people by importing the arrogant, top-down, authoritarian culture that characterises the internal life of the far-left sect.”

Pitt, a long-time member of the Left who now works for a Labour member of the London Assembly, simply cannot be dismissed as another evil member of the Right-wing lie machine. I agree with (almost) everything he says.