Ken Livingstone: The ideal sperm donor?

In his new autobiography, the former mayor of London reveals that he helped two friends get pregnant. John Walsh imagines his donation credentials
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The Independent Culture

In his autobiography, You Can't Say That, Ken Livingstone reveals that, in the early 1990s, while living with his long-term partner Kate Allen, he was asked by two women if he would father their children. He obliged with enthusiasm and triumphant success. He gave the first woman, the journalist Philippa Need, a daughter in August 1990 and a son in September 1992. Around the same time, he also helped out Jan Woolf, a teacher and political activist, who gave birth to Livingstone's second son in November 1992, just weeks after the first.

The former, and indeed possibly future, Mayor of London made it clear that in each case he was doing a favour for a friend, "be[ing] around, taking an interest" in the children and "supporting them emotionally", but not living with the mothers.

Ten years later, after his relationship with Allen had ended, and he had got together with Emma Beal, another journalist, he became the proud father of two more children. Despite the potentially awkward convergence of dates in 1992 – which suggest that, while co-habiting with one woman, he impregnated two others simultaneously – the outcome was a happy one, with all three mothers and all five children enjoying summer holidays together.

There is something splendidly patriarchal – something tribal, Mormonite, sultanic – about Livingstone's cheerful polygamous arrangements, and about the casual, even humdrum, way he describes them in his autobiography. It's piquant to find this Lambeth-born working-class hero and Labour MP for Brent East beginning the 1990s by emulating King Mswati III of Swaziland, who had 23 children by 14 wives.

It is an admirable, if not objectively explicable, thing that at least three women were so impressed by his political commitment and strength of character that they settled on him (sometimes not once but twice) to be the ideal father for their babies. But would Livingstone be the ideal sperm donor for everyone? Were he to fill in a form on a donor website, how would it read?

First names: Kenneth Robert.

Last name: Livingstone.

Date of birth: 17 June 1945.

Status: Socialist. You got a problem with that?

Blood type: Red.

Education: Tulse Hill Comprehensive. Hard Knocks College. University of Life.

Religion: Wiping the floor with that toff buffoon.

Ethnicity: Anglo-Saxon Caucasian (but not in a way that implies lack of solidarity with other races, creeds or religious beliefs, especially Islam, Judaism, etc).

Income: Never you mind. Are you from the Evening Standard?

Height: Strikingly tall and distinguished.

Voice: Attractively whiney. Think Thom Yorke from Radiohead, only more relentless.

Sexuality: Don't be absurd.

Hair colour: Greying, with silver extremities. Think Terence Stamp.

Eye colour: Blue. The words "Newman" and "Paul" spring to mind.

Body Type: Slim. Slender. Adonis-like (not like Lord bloody Adonis, obv).

Complexion: Pasty. Often Red. Occasionally puce. Depends who I'm speaking to.

Face Type: Intelligent. Rowan Atkinson meets Steven Berkoff. With a touch of western dwarf clawed frog.

Children: Five.

Interests: I knew this would come up. All right then, salamanders. Are you still going on about the bloody salamanders? And bendy buses. Yes I have spotted the spooky resemblance between the action of a bendy bus as it careers around Trafalgar Square and the twisty gait of a salamander, and no I do not think my interest in both is more than coincidence.

Lifestyle: I lead the life of a busy politician, speaking at rallies, campaigning for the rights of Londoners, standing for the 2012 Mayoral election. I enjoy home life with my wife and children in north London, though I can often be found at slightly rackety parties in town, being rude to journalists and saying weirdly extreme things about Hitler, Nazis and the Holocaust, invariably landing myself in a media-generated firestorm of controversy.

Profile: My natural modesty makes me reluctant to say it, but I'm an ideal father-figure for your kid. Firmness of purpose, determination, not to say extreme stubbornness, have been my watchwords since I joined Norwood Young Socialists in 1968. Any child of mine would inherit an implacable refusal to compromise with others, that would mark him as a future leader of men/women. When it comes to tabling abstruse motions in 437 paragraphs with multiple clauses, I am fabulously non-negotiable. I can spend hours, weeks, months making sure I get my own way.

And I will teach our offspring that, if he/she is ever thwarted, or crossed or defeated in, say, just for argument's sake, a MAYORAL ELECTION, the best course of action is to spend the next few years in a colossal, vengeful, fist-shaking sulk.

I am a caring person. I am caring to a phenomenal, epic degree. A passionate idealist about the environment, I've been known to raise levies and taxes on cars of which I disapprove, without caring two hoots for the protests of smug motorists. People must be shown the way to correct understanding.

If I have a fault, it's that I'm too nice to everybody. I make friends wherever I go. With South American socialist quasi-dictators. More recently with Islamic scholars who are keen on female genital mutilation. But, as I would explain to our future child, there must be a limit to tolerance. Just don't start me off about Israelis and Saudi Royals.

I like women who share the same political ideals as me, who sit on my committees, see the value of my views, don't argue, and agree that I should father their kids. Above all, I think it important that I spread tiny versions of myself, little clones and homunculi, around the country before it's too late.

Will you join me in this important work? Go on. You might appear in the index to my next volume of autobiography.

Donation: The facts

* Most males aged between 18 and 45 can donate sperm, as long as samples of their semen and blood pass screening tests to check for increased risks of passing on disease or deformity. GPs are also consulted on whether someone is suitable to donate, while volunteers are interviewed at their clinic to discuss the process and the legal issues surrounding it.

* The donation process itself lasts three to four months, during which time donors usually attend a clinic once or twice a week to produce a sample.

* Samples are frozen and may be stored for up to 10 years before they are used, once the donor's physical characteristics – build, complexion, eye colour – have been matched to those of some aspiring parents.

* Some 398 men registered to donate sperm through officially licensed clinics in 2008, according to the most recent data available – about two-thirds less than the number of women who chose to donate eggs that year. While the number of female fertility donors has more than doubled since 1992, male donor numbers have remained stable.

* However, because males can donate many more sperm than females can donate eggs, 977 children were born as a result of sperm donations in 2008, as opposed to 541 from donated eggs.

* Donors can specify the number of families they are willing to help, ranging from one to 10.

* Although they are not paid, they can claim reasonable expenses for travel and loss of earnings up to a maximum of £61.28 per day, or £250 for a full course of sperm donation.

* There is currently a shortage of sperm donors, who along with egg donors are in high demand by couples who for various reasons cannot rely on their own for conception. The success rate varies between 2 and 20 per cent.

Rob Hastings