“I could have kissed Ken last night!”
That was how I began my first newspaper column almost four years ago when he delivered his first big speech at the Lord Mayor’s dinner for the new Greater London Authority. He had made a great speech – a brave speech – arguing that Britain must join the Euro or suffer the consequences.
But that was way back when he stood up for London’s interests against all comers – including Tony Blair.
I guess, like lots of other Liberal Democrats, I was a bit enamoured of the Mayor – a bit seduced by his wit, humour, directness and anti-establishment stance. I’d have preferred Susan Kramer – our 2000 candidate – to be in City Hall, but Ken didn’t appear to be a bad second choice.
I couldn’t understand why everyone who had worked with Ken did not have a good word to say about him. I couldn’t understand why the Labour Party treated him like the devil incarnate – particularly as it lost them the last Mayoral election and left their own mayoral candidate stranded in the obscure political wastelands. Poor old Frank Dobson – Frank who?
I had always thought Ken was a bit of lad, a champion of the people – a working class hero!
But I was so wrong. Four years on I am sadder but wiser.
Need and pragmatism has drawn sworn enemies into the same camp. Now Ken is Blair’s Mayor – and four years on from the birth of London Government he dances quite clearly to Labour’s tune.
What a shame!
I stood shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Livingstone in the fight against PPP on the tube and shoulder to shoulder in the fight for congestion charging.
His early vitriol towards the Government for condemning London to the appalling PPP on the tube and his attacks on Labour for providing London with too little money have petered out entirely.
Livingstone now stands for Labour not for London. Labour has in the past claimed to listen to London – now they follow a Mayor who when asked said the only views he was ever interested in were when people voted.
But credit where it is due. He has had some success – congestion charging (our policy), bus improvements – although he has no means to pay for the ever widening gap between revenue and rising bus costs. Budgeting is not his strong point – understatement. There are also more police on our streets – which we, London, are paying for.
Indeed, Livingstone has doubled the amount of money he takes from our Council Tax bills in just four years.
Just imagine what most councils could provide in improved services if they could get away with doubling their Council Tax! So yes, he’s achieved some things – but at what a cost. Where is the scale of improvements to justify the enormous increase in tax?
Think how little he has really done across London, particularly in the huge swathes of London where the Mayor’s sun don’t shine – like outside of zone one, for the millions he has extracted from us and spent – on his pet projects, pet areas and his own publicity machine. He now has even more spin doctors in City Hall than the Prime Minister has at Number 10.
He is no longer cuddly Ken, cheeky chappy. He’s signed up to New Labour, warts and all. He now wants us to vote for the party that rushed into war in Iraq at George Bush’s request, for the party that spent £500 million on privatising the tube – rather than improving services, and for the party that is ploughing ahead with top-up fees and foundation hospitals.
Perhaps that’s why he still feels the need to drop his trousers in public with politically incorrect outbursts from time to time – to show the old Ken hasn’t died. Labour now has to tolerate his ill-judged remarks like the recent ones about stringing up the Saudi royal family from lamp-posts.
So – he’s off my list now. I’m his ex-best friend and I would rather kiss a newt than Ken (although there is a distinct similarity between those two)!
I really thought we would see a new form of politics with the Assembly working to hold the Mayor to account – but so often the old pull of adversarial politics has sent Labour and Tory scuttling to their political corners – with the Mayor getting away with waste and incompetence.
But we can put that right in June!