Ken and his cabal: a throwback to the days of the GLC?

The Mayoralty: With his second anniversary approaching, Livingstone faces charges of cronyism and centralising power
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Indy Politics

When Ken Livingstone swept to power to become Britain's first directly elected mayor, he laughed off claims that he would turn the new Greater London Authority into a GLC Mark II.

Having successfully transformed himself from Red Ken to Citizen Ken, the newt-loving, New Labour-hating Mayor of London was determined to prove wrong those who warned he would be a "disaster" (copyright T Blair) for the capital.

Yet with his second anniversary approaching next month, Mr Livingstone faces the claim that he is centralising power in a manner that makes the GLC days look a model of moderation. Furthermore, the London Assembly is to investigate claims of bullying by his personal advisers following a complaint in an anonymous email.

Mr Livingstone's surprise announcement last month of plans to appoint six "executive directors" to run the capital has triggered bitter accusations of cronyism. Both his Labour and Tory enemies say the Mayor wants a "Kenocracy" stuffed with his pals, some of whom are throwbacks to the GLC itself.

In theory, this year should mark a new beginning for the Livingstone mayoralty. A new City Hall, the striking "glass testicle" building next to Tower Bridge, will open in July, giving the Mayor the high-profile home he has longed for since the demise of the GLC and County Hall in the mid-Eighties. But with council tax bills soaring and continuing uncertainty over the battle with the Government on its PPP plans for the Tube, his critics claim people are now wondering what Ken is actually for.

Last month, Mr Livingstone decided to give the GLA, which is made up of his office and the London Assembly, an overhaul. He stunned assembly members with radical plans to create a central structure, using powers granted him by Parliament to appoint trusted aides to posts with salaries of £100,000-plus. To make the GLA and its associate bodies run more smoothly and efficiently, he proposed a policy integration and service delivery unit.

What most upset his opponents was Mr Livingstone's proposal to make a number of appointments, with six executive directors covering areas such as public affairs, economics and business, housing and social inclusion, equalities integration, environmental services and media relations.

Most controversially, the Mayor appeared to suggest he would not need to advertise the posts and could simply appoint a clutch of his closest aides now acting as "senior advisers".

Since he broke off from the Labour Party to fight as an independent, Mr Livingstone has been able to count on a small group of extremely loyal supporters and confidants. Many helped him on the campaign trail and were rewarded with key posts.

Simon Fletcher, his former Commons researcher and closest aide, became his chief of staff. John Ross, a former far-left activist who worked with Mr Livingstone on the Socialist Economic Bulletin, became his economics adviser. Redmond O'Neill, a young parliamentary researcher, won the transport brief.

John Duffy, a former Brent councillor who supported Mr Livingstone in his battle against Labour, became waste strategy adviser. Neale Coleman, a Westminster councillor and the brains behind the campaign to expose Dame Shirley Porter, won the housing brief. Lee Jasper, a long-time associate of Mr Livingstone during his days at the Anti-Racist Alliance, became his race and policing adviser.

Last, but certainly not least, in the Mayor's inner circle, is Joy Johnson, a former Millbank press chief appointed director of communications. The Mayor also has a 21-strong advisory cabinet, which includes Diane Abbott (women and equalities portfolio), Kumar Murshid (regeneration) and Lord Rogers of Riverside (urban strategy).

The Mayor's office stresses that he is taking legal advice about the overhaul and that he is simply keen to make the GLA work better.

Bob Neill, leader of the GLA Conservatives, said last night: "Livingstone is spending millions of Londoners' money on attempting to gloss over his failure to deliver as Mayor. The truth is that Ken is trying to buy a next term in office, with Londoners paying through their council taxes for his campaign while he builds up his Kenocracy of cronies.

"This will come as a great disappointment to those Londoners who voted for Livingstone because he provided an alternative to the Labour spin machine."

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