'Red Ken' finally reaches the end of the line

 

Ken Livingstone has been in frontline politics so long that in 1986, when Boris Johnson was at university, theatre goers flocked to a stage show called The Ratepayers' Iolanthe, satirising Livingstone's career as Britain's most famous council leader. Its star, David Kernan, did a superb impersonation of his distinctive London twang.

Every step in Livingstone's extraordinary career has been marked by controversy, starting with his emergence as leader of the Greater London Council in 1981. Before polling day, the Labour group was led by a mainstream politician named Andrew McIntosh. But when Labour seized control of the GLC from the Tories, the much expanded Labour group sacked McIntosh and installed the very left wing young Livingstone in his place.

Under his leadership, the GLC introduced a dramatic cut in fares – until the Tory-led Bromley council obtained an extraordinary court judgement ordering them to put the fares up again. Livingstone also hit the headlines by advocating negotiations with the IRA, championing gay rights, and spending lavishly to try to attract jobs to London – all highly controversial policies at the time. The Sun named him "The Most Odious Man in Britain".

The government abolished the GLC, but Livingstone obtained a Commons seat in 1987 – again in controversial circumstances, after a former minister Reg Freeson was deselected by the Brent East Labour Party to make room for him. By the time Livingstone arrived in Parliament, his outspoken criticisms of Neil Kinnock and aspects of his past made him so unpopular that the Labour whips spitefully refused to find him a desk or any work space in the building.

His years as backbench MP were unsuccessful, so he set his sights on being London's first ever directly elected Mayor. The party, under Tony Blair's leadership, was equally determined to stop him, and wielded the union block vote to ensure he was not adopted as Labour candidate. Despite having promised not to, Livingstone ran as an independent, and humiliated the Labour candidate.

As Mayor, he made the bold move of introducing the congestion charge, which no one else would have dared do, and was sufficiently popular that the Labour Party – from which he was expelled in 2000 – welcomed him back so he could be their candidate in 2004. While his strengths included his immense knowledge of London, his attention to detail and a willingness to take risks, he was hampered by a love of controversy which involved him in pointless scrapes and alienated most of the capital's Jewish community. At one point, he was suspended from office by some obscure body with the authority to do so, because had insulted a Jewish journalist.

In the current campaign, he added to his difficulties when it became known that his substantial earnings were paid into a company so he could avoid income tax, after he had insouciantly condemned other tax avoiders. He could blame his defeat in the 2008 mayoral election on the unpopularity of the Labour government, but yesterday's defeat was personal.

Huge Labour gains leave Coalition with identity crisis
Boris Johnson passes the winning post – but it was no easy ride to victory
'Red Ken' finally reaches the end of the line
Clegg punished with his party's worst-ever results
MPs turn fire on Cameron after dismal showing
Labour takes power across the country – and Miliband tightens grip on his party
Leading article: A good result, but Labour must beware a false dawn
Steve Richards: Labour (and Ed Miliband) are no longer doomed
Andrew Grice: Bruised and battered, Clegg will struggle to sell Coalition relaunch
Professor John Curtice: Labour's making progress, but it's still some way from No 10
Chris Bryant: The naked and the dead – just a couple of the things you meet while canvassing
Galloway's Respect wins in Bradford again
'Chipping Norton set' desert the Tories
Cities reject Cameron's dream of mayors for all
Salmond setback as Scots nationalists fail in Glasgow

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee