Late-night chats with an admirer pay off for Livingstone

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PROPERTY MAY have been considered theft in Ken Livingstone's radical past, but the would-be Mayor of London has just inherited a house from an admirer under unexpected circumstances.

An elderly woman who was in the habit of ringing up the Labour MP in the Commons for midnight chats has left instructions in her will leaving him her three-bedroom house in Barry, South Wales. Although the pair never actually met, the admiration appears to be mutual. Mr Livingstone described his benefactor, 80-year-old widow Betty John, as "reminding me of my own mother" and a "great character".

The late-night talks, mainly political and concentrating on Conservative iniquities, started seven years ago. Ms John also shared her thoughts in calls with Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner before she died in July. But Mr Livingstone remained the firm favourite.

The MP for Brent East will use some of the money from the sale of the house, on the market and under offer for pounds 59,950, to entertain a group of pensioners from Barry in London later this week. They will, he says, take in two entertaining shows, a visit to Parliament and a West End theatre. The rest will go to left-wing causes.

Mr Livingstone, who lives with his partner Kate Allen in North London, said: "The sad thing is I never got to meet her. I asked her many times to come up to London, but she always politely declined.

"I was quite shocked to be told that I was the beneficiary in her will. She started ringing me after the l992 election. But despite the defeat she was never despondent, she was always full of hope, and I always enjoyed our conversations. She was very much a left-winger.

"Betty was strong-willed and quite stubborn and reminded me so much of of my mother. She started ringing me to complain about the Tories when they were in power - she didn't like them at all."