“It has been said that the progressive example of the GLC was the reason the Thatcher abolished it.”
By Our Correspondent
This week, Ken Livingstone’s family issued a statement that read as follows:
“In response to media enquiries, the Livingstone family today announce that Ken Livingstone, ex-MP for Brent and former mayor of London, has been diagnosed with and is living with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Although a previously prominent public figure, Ken is now retired and lives a private life. He will no longer be available for any media interviews or requests and we will not be responding to any media questions or enquiries.
“Ken is being well cared for by his family and friends and we ask you for your understanding and to respect his privacy and that of his family.”
In light of this news, we reproduce a column Ken Livingstone wrote for Labour Briefing to mark 20 years since he was first elected Mayor of London.
GLC and Mayoral Days
It’s hard to believe that twenty years ago I became Mayor of London and that next year will mark forty years since the Labour Left gained the leadership of the Greater London Council (GLC.)
Labour Briefing gave great support in both of these struggles, and although the world – and British politics – is very different to twenty, yet alone forty, years ago our socialist principles are still just as important in both understanding the key challenges facing us, and in order to develop policies that can tackle them, for the future of both the planet and its population.
Whilst looking at both experiences there are of course many things I would do differently, and we certainly made mistakes, but I am still deeply proud of both periods of running London from the Left.
Additionally, where we could we also sought to give a platform and support to communities and campaigns organising for a better society.
In terms of the GLC, it has been said that the progressive example of the GLC was the reason the Thatcher abolished it.
In those remarkable years, we sought to demonstrated that a progressive alternative based on our socialist principles was not only possible, but that it could deliver for Londoners, with policies such as Fares Fair reducing transport costs by 32 per cent.
I am perhaps most proud that in that time we also fought so strongly for equality. Our stances against racism, sexism and homophobia were derided as “loony left”, with ‘The Sun’ claiming I was the most odious man in Britain. But we stood our ground and we were at the forefront of changing attitudes towards women, LGBT, disabled and black people, including within the Labour Party itself.
Then in 2000 when I won the Mayoralty against the odds and Tony Blair’s New Labour machine, I joked that I was continuing what “I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted 14 years ago.”
And whilst we had less power in many ways than in the GLC years, I sought to continue this strong stance.
We organised events such as the Respect Not Racism (later renamed Rise) festival, Eid in the Square, the Trafalgar Square Hanukkah celebrations, and the St Patrick’s Day celebration of London’s Irish community.
We led the campaign with others for a statue to mark Nelson Mandela, and I issued a public apology for London’s role in the slave trade on the anniversary of the Haitian revolution.
In terms of LGBT rights, the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 created Britain’s first ever register for same-sex couples and helped lead the way to same-sex marriage nationally.
We also tried to again improve London’s transport system, making travel free to under-18s and over-60s, and doubling the number of buses on key routes.
Soon after winning the election, we mounted a legal challenge to the Blair government’s misconceived decision to part-privatise the London Underground. Although we lost the court battle, we were proven right and the Underground is now back in public hands.
We took a risk in introducing the Congestion Charge, but it showed that practical policies could help protect the planet alongside environmental campaigning.
We also brought together municipal leaders from across the world to tackle climate change in the C40 organisation of mayors. All around the world, this organisation continues to this day and crafts policies to help tackle the climate emergency.
Boris Johnson quickly rolled back on these policies as Mayor and abandoned further steps we planned to take. Now, the Left must again in London, nationally and internationally prioritising putting a socialist green agenda forward.
I am also proud we used our platform to support progressive political causes, and didn’t give up on internationalism.
In particular, I remember declaring London an anti-war city to oppose Bush and Blair’s illegal war in Iraq. I also remained a champion of Palestinian rights and peace in Ireland, despite the backlash our support for both had led to in the GLC years.
Finally, without doubt the time I was most proud of London and Londoners when I was Mayor, was after the terrorist atrocity on July 7.
Londoners overwhelmingly heeded our calls for unity and by continuing to respect London’s diversity we showed that people could come together against both terrorism and those who sought to use the tragedy to fan the flames of division and hate.
Today, that message of unity and hope is needed more than ever.