Blacks for Ken, Gays for Ken, Lesbians for Ken

By Howe, Darcus | New Statesman (1996), November 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Blacks for Ken, Gays for Ken, Lesbians for Ken


Howe, Darcus, New Statesman (1996)


With the passing of each day, it becomes clearer that mayoralty business is not over until Red Ken sings. I previously described him in this column as a boxer coming out of retirement, with the implication that he may have lost his shine after the halcyon days of the people-oriented Greater London Council, which was followed by his immobility on the back benches at Westminster.

The masses have proven me wrong. Monumentally so. The polls show that Ken Livingstone is the people's choice.

I am struggling with this historical truth. I can only conclude that his success stems from a sense among the majority in the capital that, whatever his flaws, he has given us, much more than any of the candidates, a sense or ourselves as a unified constituency of Londoners.

Some months ago, I got into a huge argument with my friends in my local pub on the qualifications of Livingstone for mayor. It is virtually an all-black pub of male and female retirees with a smattering of youth. Not one of them - hard-working proletarians and Londoners to the core - had been a beneficiary of GLC largesse. They were overwhelmingly pro-Ken. Privately I felt that things would change as we went along and new candidates showed their colours. The opposite is the case.

Ken Livingstone's popularity has pushed new Labour into revealing itself as a democratic centralist vanguard party in the Leninist mould. "The leaders know best" is the creed; they decide, and the masses follow. Vladimir Lenin fashioned the Bolshevik party in this mould at a moment of social and political crisis in Russia. But those are the kind of conditions that do not apply here in Britain in 1999.

I was watching Question Time on the BBC last week. Keith Vaz represented the Labour Party. When the question came up as to whether new Labour had created the electoral college in order to reduce Ken's chance of winning the nomination, Vaz went into a spiel to deny the obvious.

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