Magazine article Newsweek International

The Return of 'Red Ken'

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Return of 'Red Ken'

Article excerpt

Ken Livingstone should be a political has-been. He's a 54-year-old diehard leftist who keeps newts for pets and can't drive. Known by voters as Red Ken, he has almost nothing in common with Prime Minister Tony Blair and his reformed Labour Party. Although a Labour member of Parliament for the past 13 years, Livingstone has had no real power since a stint as leader of the now defunct Greater London Council (GLC), which ran London in the mid-1980s. Back then, The Sun dubbed him "the most odious man in Britain."

Not anymore. Livingstone is now poised to become the first popularly elected mayor of London. Last week he broke with Labour to run as an independent against Blair's choice, former Health secretary Frank Dobson, in the May 4 mayoral election. Riding a wave of popular support, Livingstone has gone from outdated socialist to folk hero. He appears to have won over the capital as much by his plain speaking and oddball humor as by his policies. According to one poll last week, Livingstone outpaces his rivals with 68 percent of voter support. "It must be my raw animal magnetism," he deadpanned to NEWSWEEK.

For the Labour leadership, the Livingstone insurgency is no joke. "I believe passionately that he would be a disaster," Blair said. To him, Livingstone represents the party's former "Loony Left," which modernizers blame for four straight election defeats. Blairites shudder to remember some of the GLC's missteps, including boycotting Charles and Diana's wedding. …

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