If I can't be Mayor of London, am I fit to be an MP? Discuss
There is the prospect of a wholesale purge of MPs in the wake of the Jenkins Commission
Wednesday 18 November 1998
Now, not many people know about Fraser Kemp, but in Labour circles he's a real Mister Big. After a successful career in Regional Labour politics, he was a key player in our election team and Tony Blair turned to him to organise the pro-leadership slate in the recent NEC elections.
Given that his tactics helped elect four members from the rival Grassroots Alliance, he might have considered Clem Attlee's advice to a previous over-mighty apparatchik, that what was required of him was "a long period of silence". But up he popped at the weekend to announce that if I am not fit to be Labour's candidate for mayor, why should I stand for Parliament? In Monday's Independent he was reported as saying of the vetting system: "If we are to be consistent, it has to apply to Westminster MPs".
It didn't occur to my old friend Fraser that the reason I should be allowed to stand for Parliament is that on three occasions I have been selected in a secret ballot by the members of my local party as their candidate and the local electorate has then voted for me in ever-increasing majorities! If the Labour leadership wants to make the process more democratic, they could always explore the possibility of American-style primaries in which all Labour voters could have a say.
But the Millbank Tendency has never been about extending democracy, merely control from the centre. It is this inability to understand that democratic rights rest with the people which was the cause of last week's damaging publicity. Millbank prides itself on news management, but the mayoral row was wholly predictable.
Some in Millbank fail to understand that London is a diverse but distinct political entity. It was Mrs Thatcher's biggest mistake in her handling of the Greater London Council (GLC) that she did not understand the diversity of the city's electorate. The Tories in London have never really recovered.
Whatever one may say about the last GLC administration, most of our policies were based on real factors in London which needed political expression. Today, a similar question is raised by the mother and father of Stephen Lawrence. The Lawrence case may have become a national focus of opposition to racism, but its implications for policing in London are profound. The implications for the Metropolitan Police of the Lawrence enquiry must be central to the Greater London Authority's new politics, however unpopular that may be in the short term.
As a metropolis, London has a high proportion of lesbians and gay men, who spent years paying GLC rates with no sense that their specific issues were being addressed.
By the early 1980s, no progressive administration could have ignored the insistence that these issues be dealt with by the strategic authority, which is what we did. Thus, the silly attempts by right-wing commentators over the last week to dredge up the GLC's record on race, gender and sexuality are counter-productive.
I am not fighting this election on the GLC's record, but as The Sun is steadily discovering, society is moving on, and people who have a voice are not about to give it up.
Some people are still fighting old battles. The Sunday Telegraph's anonymous profile of me last weekend argued: "Livingstone was too interested in gesture politics, whether it was having Gerry Adams round for tea or twinning London with Managua." Likewise, The Sunday Times chanced upon an MI5 file supposedly given to Tony Blair after the election, which warned Tony about my "links" with Sinn Fein.
Given that Mr Adams is now a regular visitor to Downing St, the Tories are onto a hiding to nothing. The GLC was trying break the impasse in the North of Ireland on the assumption that neither Britain nor the IRA could win militarily and that only a political solution could end the violence. I stand by that, totally.
Fraser Kemp's response to the current difficulties is not unsurprising. The Millbank Tendency do not like having their activities brought to the attention of the members, least of all if the members' rights are at stake. The Independent (10 November) rightly described the mayoral vetting system as "dispensing with an initial nomination phase in which trade unions and constituency parties would put forward their preferred choices".
The BBC interviewed over half of the 74 Constituency Labour Party secretaries in London last week to see if I should be on the shortlist for mayor: 29 said "yes" and 3 said "no". Worse news for the Millbank Tendency was the Carlton TV poll for London Tonight on 12 November. When asked: "Should Ken Livingstone be allowed to stand for London mayor?", 23,051 Londoners phoned in to say "yes", and just 2,340 said "no".
Fraser's argument for extending vetting panels to Westminster elections must be the absolute opposite of how most members want Labour to respond to the current devolution difficulties.
The drive to deepen centralisation - at a time when the Government is happy to sit down in Cabinet Committees with our Lib Dem opponents - is to pursue even more vigorously the cause of the problems. With the prospect of the Jenkins Commission re-writing constituency boundaries and forcing every Labour MP to apply for the new seats, the prospect of a wholesale purge is now raised.
There is one sensible response, expressed in the trade unions' overwhelming instinct for unity. Yesterday Margaret Prosser, TGWU national organiser and Treasurer of the Labour Party, tried to resolve the mayoral mess.
She threw her weight behind the TGWU's London region which argues that there should be a "twin track" route to the ballot paper. Candidates with the nominations of at least 10 CLPs would be automatically included in the members' ballot, while also allowing candidates who self-nominate to be interviewed by the selection panel. She said: "I believe that the `twin track' approach is a very workable compromise that meets all sides' expectations," and she concluded by calling on the Party to "unite around an open, fair and democratic process".
Margaret is right. She has given the Labour Party a way of solving the crisis of who will be Labour's mayoral candidate.
Let's hope it is taken.
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