"Red Ken" explains why big business is a progressive force in the new, global London. He also discusses the city's high-density growth, Sharia law and segregation in the capital, and how he will sink Labour if it won't invest in Crossrailby Simon Parker / April 29, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
Simon Parker You still describe yourself as a socialist, but the approach you take to London and to politics in general appears to be quite different to what it was in the 1980s, in the GLC days. How do you think your views have changed since then, and what does it mean to be a socialist today, running this most capitalist of cities?
Ken Livingstone Well, the whole world has been transformed since the early 1980s. I grew up in a world in which everything came down to where you stood in a conflict between America and the Soviet Union, and that poisoned the politics of every country. When I became leader of the GLC, in 1981, we had an agenda that now looks incredibly moderate in terms of discrimination: making the police accountable and so on. Now you have David Cameron embracing most of these things, but in those days it was seen as a threat because it was somehow on the Soviet side. When we cut the fares on public transport, the Daily Mail said this was the first step towards the introduction of a full Soviet economy; you need to remember that everything was being seen through the prism of Fleet Street, where there wasn’t a single black reporter, no-one was openly gay, and there were no women in any senior positions. It was a repository of homophobia and misogyny and racism: they felt threatened by our approach and just laughed at it all.
My role has changed since GLC days too. Then, my job was the day-to-day management of the Labour caucus. Now, I just have to make sure my budget goes through the assembly once a year—and in the rest of my time I can put together coalitions of interests around a common agenda. City Hall is the centre of a web. So, for example, you get everybody signed up to Crossrail [the proposed east-west rail link through central London, running from Maidenhead to Shenfield and Abbey Wood]. Where before I was looking inward to the party machine, now I look outward. It’s a position that, thanks to the prestige of the office enables, you to broker deals with government or the private sector—Americans understand this better than we do. Another example of this kind of coalition: we have just launched our climate change strategy, which identifies how to reduce emissions by 30 per cent in ten years, and 60 per cent in 20. New York and LA and Chicago are working on similar strategies as well, and here it’s involved working with the boroughs, with the private sector, with the government. City Hall is the centre of the web—together we can get all this done.