Ken Livingstone has aligned himself with the Occupy movement and attacked the tax-avoiding rich. Now, however, it seems he is one of them himself.
There has been a minor scandal in the media because Livingstone and his wife set up a company to channel money from his media appearances and speeches — allowing them to avoid the 50% income tax rate and pay 20% corporation tax instead.
It’s right that there should be a scandal. It’s a shame it’s so far mostly limited to the press, and limited to the issue of tax-dodging. The real issue here is that Livingstone is a very rich man trying to get richer — not the kind of individual who can seriously represent working-class London.
Nor is it “just” a matter of personal wealth. It’s his policies. In 2008, when Labour chancellor Alistair Darling proposed a trivial tax on foreign financiers, and was backed by the Tories, Livingstone opposed the move. While as London Mayor he never offended the City, or property-developers, he did go out of his way to attack the unions on London Underground.
Livingstone's record and his policies on a whole range of issues — not just basic “class struggle” ones, but his links to reactionary semi-Islamist forces — rule out the idea that he is a serious left-winger, let alone a socialist. This is abundantly obvious, if you don't close your eyes to it. Go on Livingstone's campaign website, for instance, and you immediately confronted with a special page featuring an image of policeman's helmet and a pledge to increase police numbers.
Unfortunately a huge swathe of the left is closing their eyes. Livingstone's union backing is — so far — completely uncritical, while the SWP seems to have only published one sentence on the election: “We will be backing Labour’s Ken Livingstone for London mayor” (of course, the SWP sees Livingstone's Islamist links as a virtue).
We should still work for a Labour victory — despite Livingstone.
However inadequate from a working-class socialist point of view, Livingstone's policies are different from Johnson's. He says he will cut fares and reinstate EMAs for London college students. He has backed a campaign to defend and extend council housing. He opposes more cuts than Johnson does, anyway, and has even supported some strikes.
These differences reflect the underlying reality that Livingstone is the candidate of the labour movement. The fact that the labour movement does not have the political will to impose a better candidate — a candidate who is not a friend of the City and who has not openly encouraged RMT members to scab on their strikes — or even to put more pressure on Livingstone is a reflection of our weakness. We seek to address that.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is openly and unreservedly a servant of the ruling class, committed to class warfare against the working class and the labour movement. He opened his campaign with an Evening Standard interview pledging to bring in driverless trains and smash the Tube unions.
A victory for Labour in the mayor and GLA elections will be a blow, however limited, against the Tory government. We should not trust Livingstone an inch, and organise to exert the maximum pressure on him. But we should do that while working for a Labour election victory.