Magazine article The Spectator

. . . in the Battle for London

Magazine article The Spectator

. . . in the Battle for London

Article excerpt

You Can't Say That: Memoirs

by Ken Livingstone

Faber, £25, pp. 710,

ISBN 9780571280384

Charlatan, fornicator, liar, inebriate, pugilist, Marxist, anti-Semite; Ken Livingstone has been called many things but never a writer.

Actually, that's a shame because his words following the 2005 London bombings were brilliantly defiant; perhaps the most powerful speech by a British politician in the last decade.

He can be witty - the former leader of the Greater London Council abolished by Margaret Thatcher began his speech accepting the Mayoralty with the words: 'As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted 14 years ago . . .' Even Tony Blair, who effectively forced Livingstone to leave the Labour party in order to stand, eventually admitted his misjudgment.

Livingstone's election in 2000 caused the first breakdown of the seemingly unstoppable New Labour spin-machine.

Reading this book, you quickly realise why. Triangulation, dividing lines and regimented campaign management - all those techniques adopted from US pollsters by New Labour - had been perfected by Livingstone much earlier during the left-wing blood feuds of the 1970s. By the 1990s, Ken was a more accomplished politician than almost any of his contemporaries gave him credit for. That wasn't New Labour's only error.

Livingstone, Blair imagined, remained a radical socialist. His two-term mayoral administration took highly eccentric positions towards Venezuela, radical Islam and Israel but was barely less pro-business than Boris Johnson's. There is a hair's breadth between their visions for London. The question for Londoners in 2012 is one of personal competence. And, were you to believe this autobiography, you might think that Ken Livingstone is the only competent politician in Britain.

Put plainly, he has produced the single most ambitious act of self-justification in modern political memoir. If you are a professional rival, a sceptical bureaucrat, if you once met him in a pub and accidently trod on his foot, you'll almost certainly find some disobliging reference to yourself in this book. He has meticulously researched the hypocrisies and worst offences of dozens of opponents and colleagues before reproducing them in the course of 700 pages.

When the facts don't fit he resorts to namecalling. Donald Dewar, the famously honourable former First Minister of Scotland and the Labour Whip required to keep Ken in check, is dismissed as 'bent and scruffy with the air of a vulture'.

The real malice is reserved for Associated Newspapers, whose stories about Livingstone's regime before the 2008 election were so decisive. …

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