Livingstone bows out. But can we believe him?

 

He has broken promises before. Ken Livingstone once said that being Mayor of London would be his last political job, before he made running for the office a long-term occupation.

But when he told fellow candidates at City Hall in the early hours of yesterday morning that "This is my last election", the statement carried an air of finality. After a political career spanning 41 years and 14 elections, the Labour candidate is finally ready to spend more time with his unusual family and his newts.

Ironically, Livingstone is bowing out as Britain's political landscape has shifted into something that has always provoked his combative instincts: an economic downturn and high unemployment, a Labour leadership struggling to gain credibility and a Tory prime minister sticking to a policy of austerity.

After Ken Livingstone first emerged, in 1981, as a national political figure, he was for some time the most effective opposition to Margaret Thatcher. Aged 36, he had seized control of the UK's most powerful local authority, the Greater London Council, after leading a left-wing coup that deposed the moderate Labour leader, Andrew McIntosh.

Although he spent the next five years goading Thatcher – cutting travel fares and displaying unemployment figures from the roof of County Hall – the putsch was a warning to his own colleagues. It demonstrated an audacity and single-mindedness evidenced across his career.

In an era of overwhelming media adulation for Thatcher, "Red Ken" was a gift to the right-wing press. The "extreme" views, the opposition to racism and homophobia, and, above all, the call for talks with the IRA produced a level of condemnation that "the most odious man in Britain" has continued to complain about for three decades.

After the GLC was abolished, more than a decade as a back-bench MP failed to entirely satisfy Livingstone's ego, but he had long ago confided that his peculiar voice ruled out any national leadership ambitions.

The chance to become London mayor was ideal for someone who had always described himself principally as a local politician. The urge to rule London again outweighed the orders of his party: he stood as an independent and was expelled from Labour, but had the consolation of winning the first mayoral election. Four years later, Tony Blair (who once said Livingstone as mayor would be a "disaster" for London) asked him to stand as the official Labour candidate and he won again.

Livingstone's legacy is mixed. He lost out to Gordon Brown in the battle over Tube privatisation, invited outrage from motorists by introducing the congestion charge, and later played a key role in helping to win the 2012 Olympic Games. But his eventual departure was surrounded by allegations of "cronyism" and corruption.

His career has also been disfigured by controversies over his own statements, including the observation that the Tory party was "riddled" with homosexuals and, notoriously, when he likened a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration-camp guard. His refusal to apologise only exacerbated the insult.

Livingstone's performance during the campaign was impressive, and the unexpectedly close result creditable, but it should not obscure the fact that, at 67, his political career had come to an end before he confirmed it to the nation.

This last run for office was remarkably painful. His unusual private life, with five children by three partners, and his tax arrangements guaranteed intense scrutiny from the media.

The lack of credible alternatives had lumbered Ed Miliband with Livingstone as his candidate, but the leadership's view of his failings was exemplified by Labour's campaign chief, Tom Watson, urging party supporters two weeks ago to "hold their noses" and vote for Livingstone.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all