Not Waving, RA Vol 3, Issue 6, Apr/May '99

The SWP and Ken Livingstone

FOR ABOUT six months now the Socialist Workers Party has been openly stating it's changed line on standing in elections. At the same this hasn't stopped it cheerleading the campaign to get Ken Livingstone elected as Mayor of London. The post itself is an irrelevance. But one that fits into Tony Blair's policy of coming up with shiny new ideas that are totally meaningless. In line with their policy of courting the old Labour Left it fits the SWP like a glove. As they see it they can't lose. In the increasingly unlikely event of Livingstone standing and winning, they will have shown how they're willing to help their chums on the Labour Left against the evil Blair clones. However, if, or rather when Blair dumps 'Red Ken', they have already expressed in tones of moral outrage at a recent pro-Livingstone rally, that 'Paul Foot will stand to make sure there will be a voice speaking up for socialism' (Socialist Worker, 19.2.99).
Interestingly, comedian Mark Steel appears to be equating Livingstone with Foot which will probably annoy the former more than the latter. It also, of course, assumes that Livingstone is a socialist, whatever that means. The headline of the article: 'Ken Livingstone's campaign to stand as mayor has revitalised many on the left of the Labour Party' makes him sound like cheap rate Viagra for desperate old lefties past their prime, which is quite apt. Livingstone is of course an interesting character. But for all the wrong reasons. Despite his 'leftie' reputation as leader of the Greater London Council, Livingstone is, and was, a devious bastard whose sole interest in life is his own advancement. His style is labelling anyone to his left with whom he falls out as MI5 agents'. Meanwhile he drools with envy at his old GLC mate, Tony Banks, whose chief role as Sports Minister appears to be 'licensed fool'. Livingstone has written a number of crawling articles in the press in a desperate attempt to be allowed to stand as Mayor. When Blair was predictably unmoved by this, Livingstone reinvented himself as the 'People's Candidate', knowing full well the idiots of the left would embrace him like the Prodigal son. Which of course they did. His best case scenario is a minor government post like minister for the welfare of Newts; Blair being more likely to amputate one of his own legs than be seen to be giving in to the 'Labour Left'.
In the same Socialist Worker (SW), the author laps it all up like a thirsty dog: "His speech was a breath of fresh air compared to several of his recent statements in the press. He disappointed many people when he tried to play down his disagreements with Blair. He wrote a column in the Guardian newspaper saying that he had 'no ideological conflict' with the government and agreed that if he was elected mayor he would work with the government, not against it. But last Monday,s meeting showed he is popular because people believe he opposes what Blair is doing. People want to see him attack New Labour, not make concessions to it".

All a long way from the previous issue, where Livingstone was accused of running away from providing a left alternative to Blair. But a week is a long time in the mind of anyone who thinks Livingstone could be a left alternative to anything. If SW is to believed, 'socialism' was the most overused word at his campaign launch rally, except that 'Red Ken' didn't mention it. Even once. Still for them it is the magic word, repeated often enough will... However, no one told the punters, who when presented with an SWP backed 'Socialist Unity' candidate in a recent Hackney council by election, gave them last place behind the Tories. So far so good. As an SWP member proclaimed not long afterwards, 'there never was a better time to be a socialist!'

All of which tends to disprove that Ancient Greek proverb which maintains that, "those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad." In the case of the SWP it's clearly happening simultaneously

Colin O'Brien

Reproduced from RA Vol 3, Issue 6, Apr/May '99