Ken Livingstone

English politician (born 1945); Mayor of London from 2000 until 2008

Kenneth Robert Livingstone (born 17 June 1945) is a British socialist[2] politician. He has twice held the leading political role in London local government. First, he was leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 until the council was abolished in 1986. Secondly, he was the first Mayor of London, from its creation in 2000 until 2008. He was Labour Party Member of Parliament for Brent East between 1987 and 2001.

Kenneth Robert Livingstone
Livingstone at the World Economic Forum in January 2008
1st Mayor of London
In office
4 May 2000 – 4 May 2008
DeputyNicky Gavron 2004–2008
Jenny Jones 2003–2004
Nicky Gavron 2000–2003
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byBoris Johnson[1]
Leader of the Greater London Council
In office
Preceded byJohn Wilson
Succeeded byOffice abolished
In office
Preceded byHorace Cutler
Succeeded byJohn Wilson
Member of Parliament
for Brent East
In office
11 June 1987 – 7 June 2001
Preceded byReg Freeson
Succeeded byPaul Daisley
Majority23,748 (67.33%)
Personal details
Born (1945-06-17) 17 June 1945 (age 79)
Lambeth, London, England
Political partyLabour (1968-2016, suspended)
Spouse(s)Christine Chapman
(m. 1973-1982, divorced)
Emma Beal (m. 2009-present)
Children2 sons, 3 daughters

He was elected Mayor of London as an Independent candidate after the Labour Party decided not to nominate him as their candidate in the first mayoral elections. In January 2004, he was re-admitted to the Labour Party. As the official Labour Party candidate for Mayor in the June 2004 elections, he won with a total of 828,380 first- and second-preference votes. On 1 May 2008 Livingstone was defeated in his second re-election bid by Conservative candidate Boris Johnson.

Early and personal life


Livingstone was born in Lambeth, the son of Ethel Ada (Kennard), a professional dancer, and Robert Moffat Livingstone, who was of Scottish descent and worked as a ship's master in the Merchant Navy.[3] Livingstone has described his parents as "working class Tories".

Livingstone attended Tulse Hill Comprehensive School.[4] He did not pass the eleven-plus examination in 1956 but still managed to obtain a few O-levels. He worked for eight years as a cancer research technician, between 1962 and 1970. He also trained as a teacher, qualifying in 1973, but never taught. Livingstone joined the Labour Party in 1968 at a time when party membership was falling and few new young members were joining, and rose rapidly in the local party. He was elected to the Lambeth Borough Council in May 1971 and served as Vice-Chair of the Housing Committee from 1971 to 1973 (succeeding John Major in the job). In 1973 Livingstone won the Norwood seat on the Greater London Council and served as Vice-Chair of Housing Management in 1974-1975. He was dismissed when he opposed spending cuts urged by council leader Sir Reg Goodwin. He also served on the movie censorship committee and urged the abolition of censorship. Coming up to the Greater London Council Election of 1977, Livingstone realised that it would be difficult to retain his seat and managed to be selected for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, a safe seat, following the retirement of Dr David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead. He was one of the few left-wing Labour councillors to remain on the council.

Livingstone had been selected as the Labour Parliamentary candidate for the Hampstead constituency. He moved to Camden just before the deadline to stand for the council in 1978, and was elected there. Livingstone's performance in Hampstead in the United Kingdom 1979 general election was good, although he did not come close to winning what was at that time a safe Conservative seat.

He married Christine Pamela Chapman in 1973 and the marriage ended in divorce in 1982. Around that time he became involved with Kate Allen now director of Amnesty International in the UK, but the couple separated in November 2001.[5]

Livingstone and his current partner Emma Beal, also his office manager, have a son, Thomas, born 14 December 2002 and a daughter, Mia, born on 20 March 2004. He also has three other children from previous relationships,[6] whose existence was only publicly revealed during the London mayoral election in 2008. Livingstone is a noted bon vivant, having twice worked as a food critic for London's Evening Standard newspaper and various magazines.[7]

He is known for his enthusiasm for keeping and breeding newts.[8]

Livingstone in parliament


Livingstone again stood for Parliament in the 1987 general election, winning a seat in the north-west London constituency of Brent East. He replaced Labour MP Reg Freeson who was deselected in 1985 after a bitter struggle, described as "political 'murder'" in his Guardian obituary, and replaced as Labour candidate by Livingstone.

In his maiden speech to Parliament in July 1987, Livingstone used Parliamentary privilege to raise a number of allegations made by Fred Holroyd, a former MI6 operative in Northern Ireland. Livingstone said that Holroyd had been mistreated when he tried to expose MI5 collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the 1970s and the part Captain Robert Nairac is alleged to have played. He also voiced Colin Wallace's allegations of MI5 dirty tricks levelled at Harold Wilson.

As a Labour backbencher, Livingstone lost the public platform he possessed as head of the GLC; furthermore, his brand of radical socialism was increasingly out of step with the Labour leadership, which had moved sharply towards the centre under the leadership of Neil Kinnock who now blamed left-wingers like Livingstone for Labour's 'unelectability.' Over the long term, though, it was Livingstone rather than Kinnock who was to achieve electoral success. In September 1987 he was elected to the party's National Executive Committee, although he lost this position two years later; he regained it in 1997 beating Peter Mandelson in what some interpreted as a rebuke to Tony Blair. He was re-elected MP in the general election of 1992, with a 6% swing to Labour in his Brent East constituency. Besides serving in the Commons, Livingstone held a number of other 'odd jobs' during this period, including game show contestant and host, after-dinner speaker, and restaurant reviewer for the Evening Standard. In 1987 he published an autobiography-cum-political tract, If Voting Changed Anything They'd Abolish It.

As a politician comfortable in light-hearted and satirical situations, in 1990, Livingstone made the first of seven appearances on the topical panel show Have I Got News For You. For a long time, his first six appearances would stand as the show's record; his current tally of seven - the last being in 2002 - fall one short of the record for guest appearances currently held by Germaine Greer and Will Self.

In 1995, Livingstone appeared on the track "Ernold Same" by the band Blur, taken from the album The Great Escape. Livingstone provided spoken word vocals and was listed as 'The Right On Ken Livingstone.'

Livingstone appeared in one of a series of advertisements extolling the virtues of cheese in the 1980s, appropriately endorsing red Leicester. On the other side of politics, Edward Heath advertised Danish Blue. Their respective choices are down to the colour red being associated with the Labour Party, and blue with the Conservative Party.[9]

Greater London's first mayor

Red Ken car sticker: A car rental company's comment on the London congestion charge

Livingstone was again re-elected in the 1997 general election, in which Labour was returned to power under the leadership of Tony Blair. Among Labour's proposals was the establishment of a Greater London Authority which was to be a strategic body: unlike the GLC the Greater London Authority would not provide any services to Londoners directly. The new Greater London Authority would be headed by a directly-elected mayor, who would be watched over by a 25-member Assembly.

Livingstone was widely tipped for the new post of Mayor. The mayoral election was scheduled for 2000, and in 1999, Labour began the long and trying process of selecting its candidate. Livingstone was included on Labour's shortlist in November 1999, having pledged that he would not run as an independent if he failed to secure the party's nomination. William Hague, then Leader of the Opposition taunted Blair at Prime Minister's Question Time: "Why not split the job in two, with Frank Dobson as your day mayor and Ken Livingstone as your nightmare?"[10]

Labour chose its official candidate on 20 February 2000. Although Livingstone received a healthy majority of the total votes, he nevertheless lost the nomination to former Secretary of State for Health Frank Dobson, under a controversial system in which votes from sitting Labour MPs and MEPs were weighted more heavily than votes from rank-and-file members.[11] On 6 March, Livingstone announced that he would run against Dobson as an independent, confirming speculation that he would renege on his earlier pledge. He was suspended from the Labour Party the same day and expelled on 4 April. Tony Blair said that Livingstone as mayor would be a "disaster" for London; he later said he was wrong in that prediction.[12]

The result of the election – held on 4 May – was a foregone conclusion: Dobson, who it was alleged, had been pressured into running by the party leadership, unsuccessfully based his campaign on claims that Livingstone was an egomaniac, and the Conservatives remained becalmed after their catastrophic national defeat in 1997. Livingstone came out ahead in the first round of balloting with 38% of first-preference votes to Conservative Steven Norris's 27%; Dobson finished third, with 13% of all first-preference votes – just ahead of Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer, with 12%. Under the modified instant-runoff voting system employed for the election, only the votes cast for Livingstone and Norris were considered in the second round, where Livingstone won with 58% of first- and second-preference votes, versus 42% for Norris.

Livingstone continued to sit in parliament, as an independent having had the Labour whip withdrawn, until standing down at the 2001 General Election.

2004 re-election

Livingstone attends the 2007 St Patrick's Day celebrations in London

Livingstone applied for readmittance to the Labour Party in 2002 but was rejected. In November 2003, however, rumours emerged that the Labour Party would allow Livingstone to rejoin, just ahead of the 2004 London mayoral election. Opinion polls consistently gave a poor showing to Labour's official candidate, Nicky Gavron, and many in the party leadership (including Tony Blair himself) feared that Labour would be humiliated by a fourth-place finish. In mid-December, Gavron announced she would stand down as the Labour candidate in favour of a 'unity campaign,' with Gavron as Livingstone's deputy, with Labour's National Executive Committee voting 25-2 to readmit him. The deal hinged on a 'loyalty test' administered by a special five-member NEC panel on 9 January. The panel recommended that he be allowed back in the party. The move towards readmittance came amid considerable opposition from senior party members, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, and former party leader Neil Kinnock.[12] In a ballot of Labour Party members in London, Livingstone was overwhelmingly endorsed as the Labour candidate for the 2004 Mayoral election.

He was re-elected Mayor of London on 10 June 2004. He won 36% of first preference votes to Conservative Steven Norris's 28% and Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes's 15%. Six other candidates shared the remainder of the votes. When all the candidates except Livingstone and Norris were eliminated and the second preferences of those voters who had picked neither Livingstone or Norris as their first choice were counted, Livingstone won with 55% to Norris's 45%.

2008 Election


Livingstone sought re-election in 2008, but was defeated by Conservative candidate Boris Johnson on a night that saw the Labour Party suffer its worst electoral defeats for forty years. Once first and second votes were taken into account Johnson had 1,168,738 votes, Livingstone 1,028,966 - a margin of 139, 772 votes or just over 6% of those who voted.

Speaking immediately after the count, Johnson paid public tribute to his defeated rival, praising "the very considerable achievements of the last mayor of London" and describing Livingstone as "a very considerable public servant". Johnson went on to say "You shaped the office of mayor. You gave it national prominence and when London was attacked on 7 July 2005 you spoke for London." Johnson also spoke of Livingstone's "courage and the sheer exuberant nerve with which you stuck it to your enemies" and expressed a desire that the new Conservative administration could "discover a way in which the mayoralty can continue to benefit from your transparent love of London".[1]

Acts as mayor


Public transport


Livingstone's greatest challenge as Mayor of London was the city's ageing transportation infrastructure. Despite conflict over appropriate funding schemes and engineering challenges to modernising both the London Underground and the city's bus system, an Association of London Government survey, conducted by MORI towards the end of Livingstone's first term in 2004, suggested growing public satisfaction with public transport, with buses in particular being seen as more frequent and reliable.[13]

In accordance with his pre-election pledge, bus fares were frozen for four years, but then the standard single cash fare on buses more than doubled. Further, and contrary to his pledge during his first election campaign, when he said "only a de-humanised moron would get rid of the Routemaster",[14] Livingstone removed the famous Routemaster buses from routine service on 9 December 2005, because the new buses were wheelchair-accessible, although several of the old buses are used on shortened "heritage routes".[15] There was some question over the legality of using the old Routemaster under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as the Routemasters effectively banned wheel chair users.

Livingstone oversaw the introduction of bending articulated buses. These buses have faced criticism for allegedly being fire-prone, dangerous to cyclists, and unable to navigate some winding streets.[16]

Livingstone was a strong proponent of the Oyster card smartcard ticketing system for London's public transport network introduced in 2003. In late 2005, he proposed large fare increases for on-the-spot tickets across the Tube and bus network to encourage regular travellers to use the automated Oyster system to reduce queuing at Underground stations and avoid delays in conductorless buses as drivers issue tickets. The plans, although ratified by the GLA and introduced in January 2006 were condemned by those who argued that the increases would increase the cost of travelling in London to tourists and others who do not travel regularly. Civil liberties groups have expressed concern over the way in which Transport for London is able to track the movements of passengers using the Oyster card system.[17] Livingstone moved to make all bus journeys free for passengers under the age of 18 in full-time education who travel with an Oyster card[18] and introduced initiatives to enable visitors to buy an Oyster card before arriving in London.

One of the key points of conflict between Livingstone and the Labour Party was the proposed 'Public-Private Partnership' for the London Underground. Livingstone had run in 2000 on a policy of financing the improvements to Tube infrastructure by a public bond issue, which had been done in the New York City Subway. However the Mayor did not have power in this area at the time as the Underground operated independently of Transport for London. The PPP deal went ahead in July 2002. Metronet, one of the winners of the contract for PPP, subsequently went into administration in July 2007.

Congestion charge


Livingstone introduced the London congestion charge with the purpose of reducing traffic congestion in central London. Its apparent success in reducing congestion has led to similar schemes being proposed in other major cities such as New York.[19]

In November 2003, Livingstone was named 'Politician of the Year' by the Political Studies Association, which said his scheme was 'bold and imaginative'.

Environmental policies


Ken Livingstone has been called “an environmentalist, a leftist, a lover of newts,"[20] and has made a significant effort to reduce London’s impact on the environment. He began by creating the London Hydrogen Partnership Archived 2013-10-16 at the Wayback Machine and the London Energy Partnership in his first term as Mayor of London.[21] The Mayor’s Energy Strategy Archived 2009-01-09 at the Wayback Machine , “green light to clean power,” commits London to reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide by 20%, relative to the 1990 level, by 2010.[21] However, he did support the Thames Gateway Bridge in East London that Friends of the Earth say "would bring few benefits to the local people and lead to more traffic, more noise and air pollution and an increase in climate-changing emissions".[22] In October 2007, London Councils stated Livingstone had gone back on his promise to help chair the developing London Waste and Recycling Board, and to provide £6 million of funding for the project, because "the government had failed to provide him with absolute control of the Board."[23]

In June 2007, Livingstone criticised a planned £200 million desalination plant at Beckton, which would be the United Kingdom's first, calling it "misguided and a retrograde step in UK environmental policy", and that "we should be encouraging people to use less water, not more."[24]

Same-sex civil partnerships


In 2001 Livingstone set up Britain's first register for same-sex couples; while falling short of legal marriage rights, the register was seen as a "step towards" such rights. Legal status was later passed by the government through the Civil Partnership Act 2004.[25]

Religious and other festivals


After rejecting the idea for a couple of years, Livingstone hosted a Jewish Hanukkah ceremony at City Hall in December 2005. He said he intended this to be an annual occurrence.[26][27] On 17 March 2002 Livingstone introduced an annual Saint Patrick's Day festival to London to celebrate the contributions of the Irish to London, with around 250,000 people annually turning out for this.[28] On 28 October 2006 he helped organise the first ever "Eid in the Square" in Trafalgar Square, in commemoration of the Eid ul-Fitr festival which marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.[29]

Reaction to 7 July 2005 London bombings

In the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, Livingstone initiated a campaign to celebrate London's multiculturalism

After the 7 July 2005 London bombings Livingstone, from the 117th IOC Session in Singapore, where it had recently been announced London would host the 2012 Olympic Games, delivered a speech.

Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life. I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail. In the days that follow, look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfill their dreams and achieve their potential. They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They do not want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.[30]

Livingstone defended the police after the mistaken killing of a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, who police believed was a suicide bomber.

Racism policies


In 2001 Livingstone revived the free anti-racism Music festival now called Rise: London United. He believes that this, along with other anti-racist policies, is why London has seen a 35% decrease in racist attacks.[31]

In September 2005 Livingstone came out in support of placing a statue of Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, on the north terrace of Trafalgar Square. Livingstone said "There can be no better place than our greatest square to place a statue of Nelson Mandela so that every generation can remind the next of the fight against racism."[32] He was highly critical of the Planning and City Development Committee of Westminster City Council who refused planning permission.

Apology for London's role in the transatlantic slave trade


On 23 August 2007 Ken Livingstone formally apologised for London's role in the transatlantic slave trade. In a bicentennial day memorial event, he also called for the 23 August to be named as a national day for remembrance in the UK for the "horrific crime against humanity of the transatlantic slave trade." He went on to make the following tearful speech and formal apology:

"It is because it is the anniversary of the biggest slave revolt in history, that UNESCO officially marks this day, the 23 August, the anniversary of that outbreak in Haiti, as slavery's official remembrance day. This is why we, in London, call for it to be the annual slave memorial day. We are therefore here to initiate London's annual slavery memorial day, and call for the establishment of a national, annual memorial day. In 1999, Liverpool became the first major British slaving city to formally apologise. The Church of England soon followed suit. In March I invited representatives of London's institutions to join the City of Liverpool and the Church of England for formally apologising for London's role in this monstrous crime. As Mayor, I offer an apology on behalf of London and its institutions for their role in the transatlantic slave trade."

Rejecting the idea that it is not possible to "meaningfully apologise for something a former generation did," Livingstone emphasised that London and by implication the rest of the developed world still profited enormously from the assets accumulated in the slave era, adding "It was the racial murder of not just those who were transported but generations of enslaved African men, women and children. To justify this murder and torture black people had to be declared inferior or not human. We live with the consequences today."[33]



Cronyism and corruption allegations


In March 2002, while still independent, Livingstone was accused of "cronyism" by some Labour party members in the London Assembly after he had appointed six officials as special advisers at a salary level which seemed to them excessive, and a manoeuvre to help his chances of being re-elected. Livingstone denied the allegations and stated the appointments were a "necessary efficiency drive."[34]

In December 2007, the Evening Standard published news of an investigation into grants worth £2.5 million paid to organisations in which Ken Livingstone's adviser Lee Jasper was involved. It is confirmed that some of these grants were paid directly by the mayor's office.[35]

Following Mr. Livingstone’s defeat in the 2008 Mayoral Elections, The Daily Mail reported that “Eight 'cronies' of Ken Livingstone are to receive £1.6 million in pay-offs following his defeat in the London mayoral elections.” Mr. Livingstone changed the rules for political appointees who would otherwise not have been eligible for severance packages, which paved the way for the eight City Hall advisors to receive an average of £200,000. Liberal Democrat Leader Dee Doocey stated that the payments were “completely inexcusable” and added that “It seems like there's one law for the ordinary working person and one law for the political class.” Tony Travers, local government expert at the London School of Economics, said: “I think most people will be shocked. You could do quite a lot about knife crime with £1.6 million. It is odd indeed that the full benefits of labour laws designed to protect the vulnerable are being claimed by courtiers who knew they would lose their jobs if their master lost the election.” [36] Mr Livinstone refuted the comments by stating that 'It's a question of what the law requires. Either there's a legal responsibility or there is not.'

Dispute with the Evening Standard


Ken Livingstone was publicly criticised in February 2005 for remarks made to an Evening Standard reporter, comparing him to a Nazi concentration camp guard, after the reporter had tried to interview him following a reception marking the 20th anniversary of Chris Smith's coming out as gay. The reporter, Oliver Finegold, was in fact Jewish and said he took offence at the remarks, but Livingstone refused to withdraw the remark and was subsequently accused of antisemitism. Finegold had an audio recorder running.[37] The Evening Standard decided not to run the story at first but the following transcript of the conversation was published by[38]

Finegold: Mr Livingstone, Evening Standard. How did tonight go?
Livingstone: How awful for you. Have you thought of having treatment?
Finegold: How did tonight go?
Livingstone: Have you thought of having treatment?
Finegold: Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?
Livingstone: What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?
Finegold: No, I'm Jewish, I wasn't a German war criminal and I'm actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?
Livingstone: Ah right, well you might be Jewish, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?
Finegold: Great, I have you on record for that. So, how was tonight?
Livingstone: It's nothing to do with you because your paper is a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots.
Finegold: I'm a journalist and I'm doing my job. I'm only asking for a comment.
Livingstone: Well, work for a paper that doesn't have a record of supporting fascism.

The epithet "German war criminal" and Livingstone's subsequent jibes refer to the Standard's owners, the Daily Mail and General Trust, which endorsed Oswald Mosley's Fascists in 1934 and supported Nazism until 1939. Livingstone also claimed the Standard was guilty of "harassment of a predominantly lesbian and gay event".[38] Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell suggested in the Evening Standard that this explanation "came across as patronising. Gay people don't need the Mayor's protection to fend off a journalist asking simple questions."[39]

After listening to the recording supplied by Finegold, the London Assembly voted unanimously to ask Livingstone to apologise. Livingstone responded by saying "the form of words I have used are right. I have nothing to apologise for."[40] Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron, herself the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, said of Livingstone: "These were inappropriate words and very offensive, both to the individual and to Jews in London."[41] Some two dozen complaints were referred to the Standards Board for England, the body responsible for English local government standards, which passed it to the Adjudication Panel for England, which has the power to ban individuals from public office for five years.

The Adjudication Panel addressed the case over two days on the 13 & 14 December 2005[42] and adjourned the hearing for two months. On 24 February 2006, Ken Livingstone was found guilty of bringing his office into disrepute and suspended from office for four weeks, stating that he seemed "to have failed... to have appreciated that his conduct was unacceptable".[43] Livingstone attacked the decision on the grounds that the Adjudication Panel members ought not to suspend a democratically elected official from power, describing their actions as "striking at the heart of democracy". The ban was due to begin on 1 March 2006, but on 28 February, a High Court judge postponed it pending an appeal by Livingstone.[44]

The decision was later quashed by the High Court of Justice when on 5 October, Mr Justice Collins overturned the suspension, regardless of the outcome of Livingstone's appeal concerning the breach of standards.[45] The final judgment upheld Livingstone's appeal and stated that the Adjudication Panel had misdirected itself, although the judge stated that the Mayor should have apologised.

On 7 December 2006, at a City Hall reception marking the launch of the London Jewish Forum, Livingstone apologised for any offence that he had caused the Jewish community.

Criticism of Livingstone by the Evening Standard intensified during the 2008 campaign, with daily front page articles attacking him, under the direction of editor Veronica Wadley who originally urged Johnson to stand and who is closely linked to Tory leadership. According to articles in The Guardian and Time Out London, she is strongly influenced by the need to renew Associated Newspaper's multi-million pound contract to deliver the Metro free paper in London Underground stations in 2010, a decision within the gift of the Mayor.[46]

Foreign policy

Remarks over foreign policy

In 2004 Livingstone said "I just long for the day I wake up and find that the Saudi Royal Family are swinging from lamp-posts and they've got a proper government that represents the people of Saudi Arabia."[47]

In a March 2005 commentary in The Guardian he accused Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon of being a "war criminal", citing his alleged personal responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982 and accusations of ethnic cleansing.[48] Accusations that Sharon was implicated are frequently made by other organisations and leading politicians including the official Israeli Kahan Commission investigation into the massacres in 1982.

On 20 July 2005, Livingstone made the following comments in a BBC interview about the role of foreign policy as a motivation for the London bombings of two weeks earlier:

"I think you've just had 80 years of western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the western need for oil. We've propped up unsavoury governments, we've overthrown ones we didn't consider sympathetic. And I think the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s ... the Americans recruited and trained Osama Bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to kill the Russians and drive them out of Afghanistan. They didn't give any thought to the fact that once he'd done that he might turn on his creators. A lot of young people see the double standards, they see what happens in Guantanamo Bay, and they just think that there isn't a just foreign policy."

Later in the interview he stated, about the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip:

"Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in England, we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves."[49]

Commentator Mark Steyn described the interview as Livingstone "artfully" attempting "to draw a distinction between Muslim terrorists blowing up his own public transit (which he didn't approve of) and Muslim terrorists blowing up Israeli public transit (which he was inclined to be sympathetic to)."[50]

In November 2003, Livingstone made headlines for referring to US President George W. Bush as 'the greatest threat to life on this planet,' just before Bush's official visit to the UK. Livingstone also organised an alternative 'Peace Reception' at City Hall 'for everybody who is not George Bush,' with anti-war Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic as the guest of honour. In 2004 he referred to Bush as "the most corrupt American president since Harding in the Twenties".[51] In July 2007 Livingstone suggested that Prime Minister Gordon Brown needed to explain to Bush "that US governments need to return to a realistic view of the world. The US is the world's single most powerful country, but much weaker than the rest of the world put together. The attempt by one country to unilaterally impose itself on the rest of the world is not only undesirable but simply won't work."[52]

Venezuelan oil deal


In February 2007, Ken Livingstone signed a deal with Venezuela to provide cheaper oil for London buses. In return, the Greater London Authority advised Venezuela on recycling, waste management, traffic and reducing carbon emissions. This deal came under criticism from the London Assembly Conservatives including Richard Barnes, who stated that the "money would be better directed at the poor of Venezuela,"[53] and journalist Martin Bright, who said that the deal "effectively takes from the poor of Latin America to give to one of the richest cities in the world."[54] Prices were reduced by 20%; following this, half-price bus travel became available to Londoners on income support. Livingstone stated the plan "rises on the suggestion of President Hugo Chávez and builds on the work his government is doing around the world in tackling the problems of poverty,"[55] and also said, "This will make it cheaper and easier for people to go about their lives and get the most out of London. The agreement... will also benefit the people of Venezuela, by providing expertise in areas of city management in which London is a world leader."[56]

The deal was stopped by incoming mayor Boris Johnson (effective from September 2008), a decision criticized by Livingstone.

Dispute with embassies over payment of congestion charge


A dispute with the US Embassy in London over payment of the London Congestion Charge escalated on 27 March 2006 when Livingstone criticised the Embassy's decision not to pay. The Embassy argued that the charge is a form of taxation, not a charge for a service, and diplomats and their staff are therefore exempt under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Embassy officials have never paid the charge, which was instituted in 2003. Livingstone, however, alleged that the decision was made by Robert Tuttle, who took up the post of Ambassador in July 2005. Livingstone described Tuttle as "one of George Bush's closest cronies and a big funder of his election campaign" and said he was trying to "skive out of [paying] like some chiselling little crook". The group Liberty and Law reported this remark to the Standards Board for England as a breach of its code, but the board did not investigate it.[57]

Germany stopped paying the charge in 2005, Japan followed in 2006, and in 2007 France, Russia, Belgium, and 50 other embassies stopped when the zone extended to them (Iran, Sweden and Syria continue to pay the charge). Asked about Japan's refusal to pay in a March 2007 interview on LBC Radio, Livingstone responded, "I think there are several problems with Japan that we could go on about here. Admitting their guilt for all the war crimes would be one thing. So if they've not got round to doing that, I doubt they're too worried about the congestion charge." London's Japanese embassy responded that their government had already apologised for previous war crimes.[58]

Post-mayoral career


Livingstone acted as a stand-in presenter on London talk radio station LBC 97.3's Jeni Barnett for a week beginning on 30 June 2008. In July 2008 he announced his intention to run again for the office of Mayor of London at the next mayoral elections and signalled his intent to organise a "progressive alliance" of political parties (such as the Labour Party and the Green Party), trade unions and interest groups to defend the progress which was made during his terms as Mayor and to prepare for the next mayoral elections.

On 28 August 2008, it was announced that Livingstone would be an adviser on urban planning to Caracas, Venezuela.[59][60][61][62] He will act as a consultant on the capital's policing, transport and other municipal issues.[60][61] As a friend of Hugo Chávez, Livingstone was appointed personally by him to advise officials and mayoral candidates in Caracas, in order to help transform the city,[59][62] which journalist Rory Carroll described as suffering from, "Gridlocked traffic, a crumbling centre, hillside slums, horrific murder rates, corrupt police and inept local government".[61] Livingstone reckoned that in twenty years a "first-world city" can be made out of Caracas,[62] stating, "I have a very extensive network of contacts both domestically and internationally which I will be calling on to assist in this."[61] No decision on a salary for the ex-mayor had been made, although he mentioned that, "The whole cost of this trip has been paid for by the government of Venezuela and as an unemployed citizen I would not be able to pay for my own fare otherwise."[61] Livingstone played down any accusations that his close relationship with the Venezuelan President was controversial, "unless you believe American propaganda",[60] while a spokesperson for Johnson said, "Ken Livingstone is free, as a private individual, to offer his advice and services to whomever he wants."[59] Livingstone was touted as a key asset for Chávez in the upcoming November elections in the country.[61]


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