Ken Livingstone: Lib Dems are 'a venal sub-species'

Ken’s potty mouth is in action again, less than a month after the last time. Not content with comparing Boris Johnson’s chief of staff to a mass-murderer, Labour’s twinkly-eyed old charmer has now called the Lib Dems a “venal sub-species.” That’s according to Donal OHanlon, a Lib Dem councillor who was at a talk last week where Ken made the remark and thought it “crass and insulting.”

Oh dear. How the Lib-Dem vote breaks has always been of considerable importance in London mayoral elections. In 2004, the Lib Dem-leaning boroughs of Richmond, Kingston and Sutton cast their first preferences for Livingstone (presumably having concluded that their own candidate, Simon Hughes, stood no chance.) Ken won. In 2008, the same people voted for Boris, a significant factor in his victory. The mayor’s seven-point lead over Ken in the latest poll is also due, in part, to the support he attracts from Lib Dem voters.

For 2012, the Kenster has been trying to woo the two main potential Lib Dem mayoral nominees, in one of his elaborate attempts to do a deal for second preferences.  “I welcome both Lembit Opik and Mike Tuffrey entering the race, alongside the Green candidate Jenny Jones,” he said the other week. “Whatever is happening nationally, Lib Dems in London have the opportunity to be part of a progressive vision for London.”

These deals – remember Ken’s 2008 pact with the Greens? – always seemed a bit silly to me, and rather typical of the great man’s machine approach. Ken’s share of second-preference votes actually fell in 2008, even though his first-preference share rose slightly. The idea that the Greens’ 2008 candidate, Sian Berry, could somehow order her voters how to cast their second preferences was fanciful, and doing so may have cost her votes. She looked like, and was, an appendage of the Labour campaign.

I’m sure neither Tuffrey nor Opik will make that mistake, not least because the Lib Dems are not – whatever Ken likes to think – a left-wing party. They are a centre party, whose voters come from both left and right, which is currently in coalition with a right-wing party. But Livingstone’s latest outburst will probably set the seal on it.

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It is not in Labour's own interest to stay in government

I’m enjoying seeing the Left build castles in the air this morning, as they desperately try to think up some sort of deal that could keep them in power. You should never say never in politics, so I’m not going to. But here are my eight reasons why it’s very unlikely.

1. Labour hasn’t got the numbers. Even with the Lib Dems, they are still 8 short of an effective majority (given that Sinn Fein’s 5 MPs will not take their seats.) Cobbling together some sort of understanding with the Greens and the Nationalists would look desperate, last about five minutes, and make the government vulnerable to every piece of petty SNP or Plaid Cymru blackmail.

2. Labour hasn’t got the votes. They got 29 per cent of the popular vote, only 0.7 per cent more than Michael Foot managed in 1983, and less than John Major in the 1997 Tory wipeout. Even before this election, Gordon Brown lacked legitimacy. His authority now would be virtually nil.

3. Labour has lost the election. They went backwards. The Lib Dems went backwards. It is very hard to defend a loser being propped up by another loser.

4. It would discredit electoral reform. You can’t make a fundamental change to the political system as part of some cobbled-together deal to keep yourself in power and lock out the others. Labour’s eleventh-hour conversion to the noble cause of PR, after 13 years opposing it, is largely opportunistic and would look like the crudest form of gerrymandering.

5. There’s an economic crisis. Trying to stitch together unlikely coalitions and fretting about PR, a second-order issue for most voters, would look like navel-gazing to the public at a time when the greatest need is for the most stable possible government.

6. Clegg can’t go back on his refusal to deal with Gordon. Labour would have to get another leader. Even if that could be arranged in less than a few months, it would look too contrived. Could the country tolerate a second unelected prime minister in a row, a prime minister who has played no part in the TV debates?

7. The longer Labour refuse to recognise reality now, the harder it will be for them in the future. Labour is nothing like as finished as many people thought they’d be. They have a basis on which to rebuild. But if it looks like they’re clinging on, that could cost them far more than they’ve already lost. And, most importantly for Labour…

8. It simply isn’t in Labour’s interest to be in government now. The next year or so will be a world of pain for whoever’s in charge. Hugely unpopular decisions will have to be made by a government without much of a mandate. This is a good time for Labour to sit it out, elect a better leader, hope the Tories won’t last long, then capitalise on their unpopularity at the ensuing election.