Thursday, 6 April 2017

Should Britain be no country and Labour, no political party for an old Mayor of London called Ken Livingstone ?

In relation to our 71 year old, erstwhile Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, an article in the Guardian this week was entitled :

John's article referred to the fact that a disciplinary panel of the Labour Party has ruled he should be suspended for another year for 'bringing the party into disrepute' over his comments about antisemitism, Hitler and Zionism. A member of the Labour Party for almost 50 years, he was censured by the Party, both for suggesting that Hitler, at one point in his political career, supported 'Zionism' and for defending the Labour MP, Naz Shah, over the antisemitic Facebook post she made, for which she has apologised.

Everything hinges on the claims Ken made to reporters that the Nazis sold weapons to Zionist fighters and set up training camps to help Jews adapt to life in a different country and his contention : “So you had, right up until the start of the Second World War, real collaboration.” His comments referred to the 'Haavara Agreement', signed by the Nazi Government, that facilitated the relocation of some Jews to Palestine in 1933 and before the Third Reich began its campaign of mass persecution. Ken's claim that the Agreement had meant Hitler was supportive of a Jewish homeland has been widely disputed by historians.

In his article, John tried to redress the balance by saying of Ken : 'There was another reason so many of us were willing to overlook his dodgier statements, one that’s been forgotten over the last few years as he gradually seems to have lost the plot: he was really rather good at running London.' He then considered 'a brief selection of some of the things Livingstone did as Mayor.'

'He introduced the congestion charge, massively reducing congestion and improving travel times in Central London.'

Ken served two terms as Mayor of London from 2000 - 08, before he was defeated by Boris Johnson and introduced the congestion charge in 8 square miles of Central London in 2003 as an attempt to deter traffic and reduce congestion. As a policy, it was it was opposed by businesses, resident groups, the roads lobby and Tony Blair's Labour Government and it was widely recognised that, if the policy was abandoned, it could have led to the end of Ken's political career. In fact, the 'Political Studies Association' named him 'Politician of the Year' due to the implementation of his 'bold and imaginative' scheme which resulted in a marked reduction in traffic and, in turn, improved bus services with a 20% reduction in congestion by 2007.

'He invested heavily in the bus network.'

Although he had initially stated that he would not do so, Ken sought to phase out use of the Routemaster buses, the design for which dated to the 1950s. Although iconic, they were deemed hazardous and responsible for a high number of deaths and serious injuries as passengers climbed onto them and being 'non-wheelchair accessible' and didn't meet the requirements of the 1995 'Disability Discrimination Act'. They were replaced by a new fleet of over a hundred articulated buses, known colloquially as "bendy buses", which were launched in 2002.

'He gave us the Oyster card, the cycle hire scheme and London Overground, in which battered old national rail lines were reborn as a sort of S-Bahn.'

As a result of this, in  2007, the Government agreed to go ahead with Crossrail, a £16 billion project to construct a train line under Central London, linking Berkshire to Essex.

'He thought big, too. He was a key figure in the capital’s bid for the 2012 Olympics.'

In 2002, Ken had come out in support of a proposal for the 2012 Olympic Games to be held in London and had insisted that the Games must be held in the East End and result in an urban regeneration programme centred on the Lee Valley. During his second term, he continued his support for London's bid to host the Games and played a crucial role in securing vital Russian backing for the bid and had the satisfaction of attending the ceremony held in Singapore in which London was announced as the victor.

John, didn't, but might have mentioned Ken giving the go ahead for 15 sky scrapers to be constructed during his Mayoralty, including The Gherkin and The Shard. He considered these decisions necessary to fill the demand for office space. Being Ken., he brushed off criticism by groups and individuals, most notably Prince Charles, concerned about the preservation of historic skylines.

In addition, he pedestrianised the north side of  Trafalgar Square, transforming it into a public space with a cafe, public toilets and a lift for the disabled; introduced an annual Saint Patrick's Day Festival to celebrate the contributions of the Irish to London ; revived London's free 'Anti-Racism Music Festival', now called 'Rise : London United'; continued his support for LGBT rights and in 2001 he set up Britain's first register for same-sex couple which, while it fell short of legal marriage rights, was seen as a step towards the Civil Partnership Act in 2004.

John finished his article with :

'But, broadly, Livingstone in power showed what a leftwing mayor could do: investing in services, public events and civil rights, and the embracing the idea of the city as a place of diversity and solidarity. I defy you to watch the speech he gave after the 7/7 bombings without welling up just a little. Now he’s been suspended for bringing the Labour party into disrepute, he’s permanently trashed his own reputation. Few Londoners will be getting drunk and angry about how he’s been treated tonight. And few, I fear, will now spare a thought for all that he did for the City.'

"The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones."
'Julius Caesar'

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