Review by Keith Veness
Briefing founder and former ILEA and Islington councillor.
The hounding out of the Labour Party of Ken Livingstone over the ridiculous charge that he was “anti-semitic” reached its crescendo just as the last issue of BRIEFING went to the printers so we couldn’t comment in great detail. The “inquisition” of someone like Ken is an utter disgrace but there are a lot of new members of our party who are perhaps not totally aware of how Ken helped to create a lot of the stuff we on the left now take for granted. This magazine has had an “on / off” relationship with comrade Livingstone over the years – he once likened it to a long divorced couple who still had strong feelings for each other! Nevertheless, we think everyone in our movement needs to be reminded of his gigantic contributions to so many aspects that we all support and campaign for. We cannot list everything due to constraints of space but below are just some of the issues Ken led or encouraged.
Ken was one of the founder members of what was initially London Labour Briefing. The meeting to establish it in late 1980 was held in our front room at 155c Green Lanes, N.16 to provide a focus for the left’s campaign to take over the then Greater London Council. Almost from the off, it was an very “open conspiracy” that made it clear we were not interested in protest or aimless discussion. We wanted power – to use the enormous resources of the GLC to not only improve the infrastructure of our city but to reach out to groups largely ignored or isolated by the existing Labour leaderships. We could scarcely have imagined the success of our project. Within twelve months the left had won selection meetings across the capital and Ken had been voted in as Leader. Municipal politics and indeed the Labour Party would never be the same again!
Perhaps Ken’s “finest hour” was in 2005 during his time as elected Mayor of London. Having travelled to Singapore to head up the successful London bid for the Olympics, he awoke next morning to find that his beloved city had been the victim of multiple bombings on the tubes and buses and almost its entire population was in various states of shock and anger. In his biography of Ken, Andy Hosken says:
“Livingstone and his team organised a big rally in Trafalgar Square on 14th July 2005. He nearly broke down in tears during the speech which was aimed at community harmony: ‘Pericles the first mayor of Athens over 2000 years ago said that in time all great things flow to the city and the greatest of those is the people who come’. He then added ‘Those who came here to kill last Thursday had many goals but one was that we should turn on each other like animals trapped in a cage – and they failed!’
“KEN – the ups and downs of Ken Livingstone” by Andy Hosken 2008