Blair and Livingstone's marriage of convenience

If Livingstone rushes into the arms of New Labour, he doesn't deserve votes. No willing puppet does
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The Independent Online

A marriage of convenience begins to loom. Tony Blair gets into a panic over the London elections - New Labour could come fourth on 10 June and deservedly because Londoners will not forget or forgive his policy failures and deceptions in the past year.

The thrill is gone now, baby; we are left cold by the reheated charisma, the indomitable will which bends to no one but the call of George Bush, the quivering rehearsed sincerity, the Thatcherite stubbornness, the pose of a troubled saint. Ken Livingstone - as always a cunning politician - senses a big opportunity to promote his fortunes and reach still greater heights. Hence the impending Blair-Livingstone nuptials. Livingstone will almost certainly be re-admitted to the Labour party this week. How despicable. How depressing.

Blair wants to buy in centre-left popularity and Livingstone, it appears, is for sale. And cheap. A good out-sourcing arrangement, you might say. Maybe the Political Studies Association will want to grab back their Politician of the Year award which they handed to Livingstone for his bold policies.

Do Blair and Livingstone really believe that thousands who voted for Livingstone will simply follow their leader into the arms of New Labour? Is this how much credit they give to the intelligence of voters in this, our vibrant and wonderful city?

For my part, I have major reservations about Livingstone's race equality policies which were defrosted from his time in the GLC and took no account of life as it had moved on. More widely, the reason Livingstone was voted in is because he offered an alternative to the mad monks of the market place, the neo-capitalist political leaders from both main parties who have dominated our lives for two decades.

Livingstone knows that society and mutuality cannot survive under the lawlessness of personal greed and economic libertarianism. He acknowledges that equality and justice and true democratic principles must be kept alive by constant vigilance and bold initiatives even if this brings forth the wrath of right-wing Rottweilers. He recognises that this city and the country depends on the energy of incomers, migrants and refugees and that demonising them disgraces our history and imperils our future. He realises that Londoners and others around the country are hungry for independent politicians who work for the greater good and are not cowed or seduced by overactive spin doctors. None of these values are shared by Blair and co.

Livingstone is not someone you can easily trust; he is self promoting and profligate, but he had policies and beliefs which were right for London. New Labour did not.

Livingstone was a much-needed liberator at a time when New Labour was turning into an elected dictatorship, playing revolting electoral games in Wales and London with placed men and women who pathetically mouthed what they were coached. Alun Michael, Clive Soley, Baroness Uddin, Trevor Phillips, and Frank Dobson, the poor blighter chosen to take on Livingstone, all did as instructed. Today Dobson is a free man and himself again. But he is clearly consumed by a sense of betrayal that his leader so coldly abandoned him after his senseless sacrifice.

They're at it again. Nicky Gavron, at one time the deputy mayor and candidate for New Labour, is being "persuaded" that Livingstone should be the man to run for the Labour party. Poor lamb, the behind-the-scene woman that she is, can only bleat in agreement with whatever the powers at No 10 dictate.

Livingstone knows well enough the ruthlessness of New Labour. They used every trick in the book to destroy his credentials five short years ago. In fact they continued to attack him rigorously until about nine months back. He was as bad as Derek Hatton in Liverpool; he was loony; Red Ken was going to bankrupt the city; his congestion charges were a wild idea bound to fail; he was dangerously misguided on the private funding initiative for London Underground and his bus schemes were crazy.

So have New Labour now declared that they were wrong in their judgement about Livingstone? Are they about to issue a major apology to the Mayor of London? They should, as we get the highest number of passengers on busses since 1969 and the congestion scheme is lauded by most as a great success. Are New Labour gobbling their words as fast as they can, choking as they do so? Soley says he is prepared to have the rebel back even though it "sticks in the throat a bit". Is Blair going to tell us Livingstone was right on Iraq and will we get a photo with Livingstone and Gordon Brown shaking their past away with smiles?

Don't be daft. They don't want him back in because they think his policies are good for New Labour. They just want his votes. So why is Livingstone agreeing to the deal?

He has foolishly persuaded himself that he can take Brown's place and, one day, be a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. The man has a big enough head to entertain such a possibility. He is willing to be a player, it seems, in the interminable, simmering distrust between Blair and Brown. But if they take him in, will he have to disavow all his radicalism? And say he was mistaken and that the leader was right all along? Will he have to send a conciliatory bouquet to George Bush for his damn cheek, organising a "Peace Party" when the US leader was in town? Will he announce that private funding is the only way for our schools, hospitals, roads and tubes?

I am not criticising either party for changing their minds. How could I in any case? I have been laughed at, scorned, abused, generally made to look a monkey or monster for two weeks, since I decided to hand back my MBE after I thought again about the implications of being a Member of the British Empire. You must never turn, it seems. Even if you are persuaded by counter-arguments.

This is something I will never understand. If nobody is ever supposed to be moved enough to alter their positions, why do we write week after week attempting to do just that?

So if either Livingstone or Blair said they had given many weeks and months over to re-considering what they had said and done during the last London election, this embrace would make sense and have some moral basis. But no. It is simply about two men seeking ever more glory and power, two men with violently opposed views, principles and policies. It is a matter of political expediency.

Or maybe it is about that holy word "choice". New Labour is a supermarket where each of us can find things which suit us, our needs, our vanities and preferences.

Scots prudence and fiscal expertise? Oh you want Brown over at that counter. Traffic regulation and much public spending? Livingstone has the best offers on those. Looking for tuition fees and special grants for flats to buy spoilt middle-class undergraduates? Blair with that nice smile is the man for you. Counselling is it? Oh yes we do that too. Gavron over by the bath oils, she would be pleased to help.

Don't fall for it. If Livingstone rushes into the arms of New Labour, he doesn't deserve Londoners' votes. No willing puppet does. There are other options. At least while we still have a working democracy. And for true democrats Livingstone is not indispensable.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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