Workers' Liberty #64/5


The rich man in his castle...

Despite Ken Livingstone's victory in the election for London Mayor, there's been no breakthrough says Violet Martin.

The battle has been won. The victorious general is celebrating in his captured castle. Ken Livingstone once more leads London, having been elected Mayor in May against the Tory Steven Norris and New Labour's official candidate, Frank Dobson.

But what of the victorious army? The troops? Where are they? Dispersed and subdued.

Hundreds of thousands of trade unionists, and thousands of Labour Party members, backed Livingstone for Mayor in a direct challenge to Tony Blair's vehement denunciations. Some trade union organisations, like the North/North-West London branch of the Communication Workers' Union, defied their union tops in order to support Livingstone. But no "Livingstone movement" has resulted.

A handful of left Labour activists have quit the Labour Party to join the London Socialist Alliance, and a few more have worked with the LSA while also keeping their toehold in the Party. But the victorious Livingstone army, as an army, have all been left to make their own ways home individually.

The defeated army, New Labour's, actually looks in better shape. There are more murmurs of dissatisfaction than there were, but on the whole the Millbank leadership still has a solid grip. And the defeated generals are prospering. Mayor Livingstone has appointed a millionaire Blairite, Nicky Gavron, as his deputy. The Guardian, describing Gavron as "the Quango Queen" because of the number of public committees she sits on, reported that New Labour had agreed to her being deputy only after assurances that Livingstone would avoid conflict with the Government. Livingstone has nominated another Blairite, Toby Harris, to chair the police committee.

On Tube privatisation, the picture is essentially unchanged. Livingstone opposes the "public-private partnership" - contracting out the Underground lines' infrastructure to private business - but the Government says it will not hand over the Underground to Livingstone's administration until the privatisation is signed, sealed and delivered. Then, says Livingstone, he will "hold the contractors to every dot and comma of their contracts" , but no more.

A Millbank spokesperson told the Guardian: "Labour's GLA group is co-operating with Ken to get as much of our manifesto implemented as possible". New Labour HQ has made no effort to trace or expel any of the London Labour Party members who backed Livingstone. A campaign has started to get Livingstone readmitted to the Labour Party, and it has support from Labour high-ups like Mo Mowlam.

Now, Livingstone always said that he had no desire to fight or embarrass the Government. Even if many people supported him because they saw doing so as a way to voice a protest against New Labour's Tory policies, he himself claimed he was standing only because he was the best candidate to beat the Tories.

However, the Tories, too, are prospering in defeat. As his economic adviser, Livingstone has appointed Judith Mayhew, who is the policy chief of the City of London Corporation and has been named as a likely future Tory MP. To his "Transport for London" board he has appointed Tory Mayoral candidate Steven Norris along with three business bosses, two professors, Lib-Dem mayoral candidate Susan Kramer (and four trade union officials, too, but none of them works in London's transport).

The popular-front, cross-party, "pro-business" line picks up from the very last period of the old Greater London Council - when Livingstone sought an alliance with Lords and "wet" Tories against Thatcher's moves to abolish the GLC - but chimes in very well with New Labour. The Government has a sort of semi-demi-coalition with the Lib Dems, and London now has one borough council, Hackney, run by a formal coalition of Labour and the Tories.

Partly because of the highly undemocratic structure of the new London government, where most important matters are in the personal gift of the Mayor, the Livingstone army has been able to voice no loud or clear protest against the new Mayor's record.

A fair number of them - to judge from the tone and manner of the Mayoral hustings meetings early this year - probably do not particularly want to protest. They valued the chance to vote for a more colourful and independent candidate, and to reprimand the dull greyness of New Labour, but they did not believe in the possibility of, or really want, a vigorous fight against the Government.

For socialists to have a "united front" even with those "moderate" Livingstone supporters made sense. They were after all voicing a desire, however timid and confused, for some sort of working-class democratic representation, against the stifling do-what-Millbank-tells-you line of New Labour.

There were Livingstone supporters who wanted more. The Mayoral campaign saw some trade union branches assert themselves politically as they have not done for years. Seeds have been sown.

But who will tend them? Who will reap the harvest? Not those who for a couple of years before the London election saw Livingstone's campaign for Mayor as the left's great hope for a breakthrough, the opportunity to which all else must be subordinated. Not those who said, when the activist left first started to unite: "Wait. The balloon will go up when Ken stands for Mayor. Then we'll have something much broader than your left alliance." As we wrote in Workers' Liberty, back in February 1999, "the days are gone by when workers could or should wait for heroes on white horses".

There may yet be conflicts between the Mayor and the Government. Livingstone lacks principle, but he does not lack verve and initiative. But building anything solid out of ferment created by such conflict, and by the Livingstone campaign, depends on independent working-class socialist organisation - building the London Socialist Alliance, arguing within it for an orientation to the fight for a workers' government, and taking political issues into the trade unions.

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