Wednesday, February 16, 2005


When it was led by Ken Livingstone, the GLC got up the Thatcher government's nose with impressive regularity. For one, their high spending policies were anathema to Thatcher and her promise of Britain as a low tax paradise. Also, their attitude to personal and social education in London school was right out of some Daily Mail nightmare as their efforts to make education free from racism, sexism and homophobia earned them lurid headlines in that paper, as well as the Evening Standard and the Sun - the last of which dubbed him "Red Ken", a fully paid-up member of the "looney left".

The GLC was unquestionably a victim of Thatcher's wider war on local councils - and this period saw a number of measures which would be impossible in countries with constitutions that entrench local and regional government : the introduction of rate-capping, which imposed a financial straight-jacket on councils regardless of the wishes of the local electorate; Section 28, a homophobic central government intrusion into the classroom; the "right-to-buy" policy, popular certainly, but again an unwarranted incursion into the right of councils to manage their housing stock; and the abolition of the GLC itself, an event that demonstrates the elasticity of the British constitution to the astonishment of American and Continental observers who have to live with those pesky written constitution things.

But none of this means I have any sympathy for Newt-boy; he's a prat - always has been, is now and always will be and although it may not reflect well on me, I'm rather enjoying his present discomfort. Much has been written about his embrace of Al-Qarawadi. I've no interest in discussing further an issue that's been done to death elsewhere but I have to say that I'm quite sure that had Al-Qarawadi been a fundamentalist Christian, such was the atmosphere in the 1980s - Ken and his ilk would have been amongst the first to (noisily) denounce a meeting with someone with views like Al-Qarawadi's.

And now there's his unbelievably crass comments to a Jewish reporter of the Evening Standard. His excuse - that he was responding to the years of racism promulgated by the paper just doesn't wash. If he felt so strongly about it, perhaps he could explain how he came to be their restaurant critic for four years? (He also had a column in the Sun for a while, if I remember rightly - another paper not exactly renowned for celebrating the cultural diversity of Britain.)

But - while he should of course apologise - I certainly don't want to see him resign. I rather agreed with Simon Jenkins that our Ken adds to the entertainment value of political life in this country and if the presence of holocaust survivors at the meeting where Livingstone was called upon to apologise was an over-reaction, it's exactly the sort of treatment that Ken and his type were dishing out to anyone whom they decided fell short of their impeccably high standards of "tolerance" in local government and the voluntary sector during the 1980s.

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