Why does Ken Livingstone bother with Labour?

This is the party that didn't just expel him, it vilified him with absurd abuse
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The Independent Online

During the last election for the mayor of London the Labour Party had a wonderfully surreal attitude towards Ken Livingstone, which was "Why are you all voting for him, you idiots, can't you see he's unelectable?"

During the last election for the mayor of London the Labour Party had a wonderfully surreal attitude towards Ken Livingstone, which was "Why are you all voting for him, you idiots, can't you see he's unelectable?"

For years Tony Blair declared that Livingstone's association with Labour cost them thousands of votes. So Livingstone left Labour and got four times as many votes as the Labour candidate. Now he seems likely to win again, except that, as he's back in the Labour Party, Blair's association with him is costing Livingstone thousands of votes.

Even the Tories have worked this out, which is why their candidate Steven Norris has declared himself against the war in Iraq, and refers to Livingstone as "Blair's mayor". In effect, this means the Tories are complaining about Livingstone from the left. Norris will turn up to Livingstone meetings wearing a bright baggy woollen jumper and rings through his eyebrows, yelling: "Yeah like you big up the people but you hang out with Blair, you're down with the corporate shit, man."

It's an interesting tactic, to campaign on principles opposite to those your party was set up for. If a majority of the country starts supporting the European Union, maybe the UK Independence Party will say: "If there's one thing we've never supported it's UK independence."

Norris is more truly Conservative when he proposes to abolish the congestion charge, as opponents of this charge base their opposition on arguments such as: "He's put all that money into extra buses that most of the time are half-empty." Perhaps they think public transport should be run by those lads in charge of the dodgems at a fairground. You get in but it doesn't move off until there are enough people for it to be worthwhile switching the power on.

Norris's claims to be the radical candidate are also slightly compromised by the fact he's on the board of Jarvis, the despised company in charge of the maintenance for the Underground. Maybe it's a rule in this election that every candidate has to join a discredited organisation, and this week Simon Hughes will announce he's been signed to play in goal for Leeds United.

Even the Liberal Democrat claim to be the anti-war party is misleading, as they adopted the peculiar philosophical position of being anti-war until there was a war. The justification for this was that once the war had begun, it wouldn't be fair on our soldiers to oppose the war as they couldn't do their job without public backing. But apart from anything else is this right? If you're driving a tank and you're about to send off a metal-shredding missile, do you start twitching, and muttering "I'm not sure I can because there was this letter in The Independent"? And Jenny Tongue was sacked from the Liberal front bench for saying she could understand the mentality that led to suicide bombing. So presumably, the correct Liberal response to any question on the Middle East should be: "I don't understand what's going on. It's a bloody powder-keg, I know that much."

Jenny Tongue was also told her statement was a "green light to terrorists". What a quaint idea, that Hamas suicide bombers are sat in a basement, uncertain what strategy to follow, listening to a short-wave radio. Then suddenly one jumps up and cries, "An obscure Liberal Democrat MP understands us - strap me up with explosives baby."

How do New Labour politicians explain how there can be an election in which every major candidate has to try and make themselves seem more fervently anti-war than the rest? The anti-war Respect coalition may appear to have made only a limited impact, but it seems every other party has eagerly copied its platform. For a laugh, Respect should announce it plans to bring back bear-baiting, and see if all the other parties go "perhaps they're on to something," and copy that as well.

Certainly, Labour's only hope to win the vote for mayor was by re-admitting the anti-war Livingstone, and allowing him to appear distant from Blair. If he wins, Blair may have to follow a similar tactic. At the general election he'll say: "You may think Ken Livingstone doesn't like me but he only has to meet me a couple of times a week. I spend all day with me so imagine how sick I make me. To give Blair a bloody nose vote Blair."

So why has Livingstone rejoined Labour? This is the party that didn't just expel him, it vilified him with absurd abuse, such as the claim that his plans for buses would cost every Londoner £1,200. Perhaps Blair was getting his information from the same source that told him about the weapons of mass destruction. Somewhere was a report that, within 45 minutes of getting elected, Livingstone would gold-plate a fleet of 133s to Streatham garage.

But as well as pride, why rejoin a party that is becoming more disliked each day, and which he opposes on every fundamental issue. It would be like joining the National Association of Paedophiles and announcing: "But don't worry, I can't stand paedophiles."

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