Sunday, 27 May 2018

Britain is still a country, but Labour is no longer a party for an old politician called Ken Livingstone

Ken, who has been forced to make an inglorious departure from the Labour Party at the age of 72, after a membership of 50 years, had once had a political career which had taken him to the leadership of the Greater London Council in 1981 followed by two terms as Mayor of London.

His long final act of political suicide started in 2016, when Labour was convulsed by its first row about antisemitism in the party. Naz Shah, an MP, had apologised and was briefly suspended from the party after she shared a Facebook posting in which had suggested relocating Israel to the US as a “solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict”. It was then that he took it upon himself to defend Shah, and gave an interview in which he argued that Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism, the existence of a Jewish state, “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”

His suspension from the party, but its decision not to expel him led to large scale uproar in its ranks and when it was once again convulsed by antisemitism in March this year, it was his name that repeatedly came up. In addition, he was held partly responsible for the political damage which was done in the last round of local government elections, when Labour failed to win Barnet Council in London, as had been expected, when Jewish voters turned away from Labour.

His final conclusion was that the long running row over anti-semitism had become “a distraction” and he resigned his membership of the party before the final hearing ever took place.

Ironically, it was in his first term as the newly elected Mayor of London from 2000–04 that he achieved his greatest success as a politician, when he was suspended from the Labour Party and stood against and beat the official Labour candidate, Frank Dobson.

It was during this time that he :

* came out in support of a proposal for the 2012 Olympic Games to be held in London and insisted that the Games be held in the East End to promote urban regeneration.

* introduced the fleet of articulated over a hundred "bendy buses" to replace the old Routemasters, the design for which dated to the 1950s.

* gave the green light to clean power and with his 'Energy Strategy' committed London to reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide by 20%, relative to the 1990 level, by 2010.

* pedestrianised the north side of Trafalgar Square, transforming it into a public space with a cafe, public toilets, and a lift for the disabled.

* set up Britain's first register for same-sex couples, which, while falling short of legal marriage rights, was seen as a step towards the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

* introduced a traffic congestion charge covering 8 square miles in Central London, charging motorists £5 a day for driving through the area in an attempt to deter traffic and as a result reduced it by 20%.

* introduced the Oyster card system, the smartcard for use on the Tube, trams and buses which reduced passenger queues.

Having run London pragmatically for 4 years, he was returned to the Labour fold to win again in 2004, before Boris Johnson halted him in his tracks four years later, but in his second term he failed to  match the reforming zeal of his first term.

"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones."
Mark Antony reflecting on the death of Julius Caesar 

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