The real reasons to criticise Ken Livingstone

City Hall

Author: 

Mike Rowley

The mayor of London receives the salary of a Cabinet Minister - that is, £137,579 per annum plus expenses. The latter are bound to be high.

In 2005 Livingstone went to visit the right-wing Republican Mayor of New York, Rudi Giuliani, from whom he hired the infamous Bob Kiley to oversee PFI on the Tube. Last year he went to the annual jamboree of the ultimate capitalist club, the “World Economic Forum” at Davos in Switzerland, as well as leading a “delegation of London ambassadors” to India, while highly-paid members of his staff went to Venezuela to meet Hugo Chavez. The total cost of foreign trips for the mayor and his senior staff since April 2004 is declared by Livingstone himself to be “slightly under £370,000”.

John Ross of the bizarrely named Socialist Action group, Livingstone’s “Director of Economic and Business Policy” responsible for selling London to capitalist investors and helping out PFI on the Tube, has been on twelve freebie trips abroad in less than three years, but ironically Mark Watts, “Principal Adviser on Climate Change”, leads the field with thirteen. The Davos event takes place behind high security and various exclusion zones to combat the threat of anti-capitalist protesters - no wonder Livingstone has condemned the latter so strongly!

For all his occasional leftish rhetoric, Ken Livingstone's view on capitalism is very clear. Last year he wrote in the Blairite magazine Prospect that “I used to believe in a centralised state economy, but now I accept that there’s no rival to the market in terms of production and distribution...There isn’t a great ideological conflict any more. The business community, for example, has been almost depoliticised. [A representative of the City capitalists] came and said, ‘We’ve all changed, it won’t be like the last time, there’s so much we can do together.’ I didn’t believe a word of it, but it turned out to be true.”

So capitalism is now politically neutral! (That is, equally and uncritically accepted by all parties). I leave it to the reader to reflect on who has really changed: the exploiters or the erstwhile leaders of opposition to them.

When ex-Red Ken says he no longer belives in reformism, he's not kidding: from supporting PFI on the Tube to urging Tube workers to cross picket lines, condemning striking firefighters and praising Maggie Thatcher for deregulating finance capital, Livingstone is now a docile representative of those forces in society that in the 70s he claimed to be spearheading the fight against.

Livingstone believes that the super-rich investors of the City are the key to London’s prosperity, and ignores completely their role in pushing London’s house prices out of the reach of working-class Londoners (at an average of just over £400,000 the highest in the country). Due to all the subsidies to private investors, transport fares in London are now 26% higher than in Livingstone’s beloved New York.

Ken's flagship project, the 2012 Olympics, is supposedly a shining example of how private investment can “regenerate” working-class East London. But when the razzmatazz is over and the hangovers subside, the end result will be some new parks and 4,000 new houses for a total expenditure of £20,000,000,000. That's £5,000,000 per house.

According to Livingstone’s spokesperson “The chairman [sic] of the [London] Assembly has postponed the scrutiny of the Mayor’s international work despite the fact that the answers to their questions had been prepared because he knew that to proceed with the sessions would have involved serious discussion about the fact that 700,000 jobs in London are employed by foreign companies or working the tourist industry”.

Last year Livingstone publicly accused members of the London Assembly scrutinising his international trips of “being entirely out of touch with London's position in the modern international economy” and of “endangering Londoners’ jobs and incomes”. He even had the nerve to say that for him not to visit India at taxpayers’ expense would be an insult to all Londoners of Indian origin!

As the above implies, Livingstone really does seem to consider himself some kind of head of state. The GLA Group maintains “embassies” in Brussels, Beijing and Shanghai, at a total annual cost of £765,000; and following his trip to India Livingstone has announced the opening of two more, in Delhi and Bombay. The policy idea here is very simple: exploiting low-paid workers.

As Livingstone himself says (letter to the Chair of the GLA, 14 February 2008) in India and China “high quality staff can be secured at substantially lower rates than in the UK or markets such as the US or Europe.”

Additionally, “Think London”, an agency run by the GLA to encourage investment in London by American capitalists, has an office in New York and is in the process of opening one in San Francisco. Livingstone says these offices yield high “publicity value” and even puts a number of precise figures on this value, which don't bear repeating here because such figures cannot but be plucked out of thin air.

Livingstone’s presentation to the GLA explaining how he sees London's place in the world economy is worth a look for sheer mind-boggle value: see www.london.gov.uk/mayor/brief-for-assemblyplenary-20070117.pdf. Starting with a triumphalist paean of praise to the City's finance capitalists, the document is an uncritical endorsement of all investment, illustrated with an amateurish little graphic with some drawings of cars, and enlivened by some sentences which don't even make sense: “London has over 60,000 foreign students the largest of any country in the world.” (Is London now a country and Ken head of state?)

Of course many critics of Ken Livingstone's policies are not seriously trying to get him to “open the books” for democratic purposes, or motivated by opposition to capitalist exploitation. Livingstone seems fond of quoting the more outrageous statements of racist Tory Brian Coleman, one of the most outspoken critics of his expensive office and international ventures. This character opposed Livingstone's support for London Metropolitan University by demanding: “Why should the people of north London suffer in order to attract hundreds of foreign students? They are such a crap university they only attract foreign ones.”

Criticism of Hugo Chavez’s government in Venezuela, for example, must go hand in hand with, indeed be motivated by, solidarity with Venezuelan workers - something in which Livingstone’s Tory critics are not interested. The internationalism of capital, to which Ken Livingstone has committed himself, can only be opposed by the internationalism of the working class.