In February 2010, in the build up to the Greater London Authority’s 10th anniversary, Ken Livingstone, London’s first Mayor of London, spoke to Martin Hoscik and Adam Bienkov about ten years of London Government.
In this second part of our interview Livingstone discusses successor Boris Johnson and the prospects of running as Labour’s Mayoral candidate in 2012.
BORIS JOHNSON AND WORLD CITY RIVALRY
Livingstone has previously said that when Boris Johnson announced his intention to run against him “we read everything he’d ever written” and came away thinking he was “a hard line, right wing idealogue”.
Today he suggests that “it’s quite clear now he was writing for the Telegraph readership, I don’t actually think he believes in anything except that people like Boris should run things, but they shouldn’t have to ‘do it’ themselves, there should be underlings who do it for them while they get the kudos”.
“Because he knew nothing about London politics his campaign was a series of negatives against me, whilst at the same time saying he was going to keep the bus system, keep neighbourhood policing, without it occurring to him that if he won he’d have to resolve these contradictions”.
One of the common criticisms of Johnson is his habit of launching projects which were started under Livingstone without ever publicly acknowledging their parentage. At the same time he’s faced criticism for cancelling a number of schemes he says would never have been possible to deliver. Does Livingstone think there’s a danger for the future?
“If Boris did do a second term the Mayor elected in 2016 would find absolutely nothing…it’ll be just like starting again and this is what’s so outrageous. He’s stopped everything of mine which wasn’t contracted but the Mayor of Paris has €30bn to spend on transport, they’re now designating areas of Paris as science zones, cultural zones and all this happened after I lost. Sarkozy and the Mayor see there’s a chance to pick up things from London and that’s why it is, in a sense, this competition between these great cities. Like running up and down escalators, you can’t stop.”
“The real worry for me is that if Boris got a second term he wouldn’t be tailoring his policies to be quite so London-friendly, he’d be targeting the Tory selectorate so I think it’d be quite unpleasant.”
Livingstone says that to fulfil his widely reported ambition to become PM, Johnson “has to get back in the ranks of Tory MPs by the middle of the next decade, therefore you don’t take any risks, he doesn’t want to embark on some huge project which goes wrong. But also his first term is about getting re-elected because I don’t believe Cameron will allow him not to stand. Cameron’s never going to allow him back into Parliament while he’s there. He can’t help upstaging Cameron, and he does it brilliantly, it’s a bit like me and Kinnock, it’s never going to work.”
CHANGING ADMINISTRATIONS & PRAISE FOR BORIS
Discussing the post-election handover to Johnson’s team, Livingstone recalls that in 2000 “for some bizarre reason they gave me a ten week handover and then didn’t build that in [for future Mayors]”
When asked whether he thinks this contributed to the early resignations of Johnson appointments or the early confusion on policies such as the future of half-priced fares for those on lower incomes, Livingstone says: “Boris only has himself to blame, after the results we came off the podium and I said to him ‘you need to take two months to work out what you want to do, all my staff will stay, they won’t want to but will if I ask them, while you work out what you want to do’. Of course he just threw everyone out of the building so a load of new people came in who, I think, initially hadn’t expected to win the election so there was no plan.”
In a comment which will rile some of Johnson’s critics on the right, Ken claims that he advised Boris to “do whatever Peter Hendy and Tim O’Toole tell you and on that I think he has taken the advice.”
Livingstone does have some words of praise for his successor. When we mention Boris’s pushing at the boundaries of the Mayor’s powers in helping establish City Academies and oust former Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, he’s clear that’s “what any Mayor should do” because the job has so few formal powers.
He also backs Johnson in his dispute with PPP contractor Tube Lines, saying that the Mayor was “right to try and push them into receivership.” Picking up on TfL’s line of attack against the firm, he condemns the practice of Tube Lines shareholders charging the firm for seconded staff.
A THIRD TERM FOR MAYOR KEN?
As we come to the end of our time with Livingstone the discussion inevitably turns to his future intentions towards London’s top job.
With Livingstone on record as saying the Mayoralty would be his final political job, we ask if he’d be happy for his political obituary to end with the achievements of his two terms to date should he not win his widely trailed challenge for the role in 2012.
“I don’t think humanity would survive” he quips, before adding “I think if I announced that I was retiring to concentrate on my broadcasting career quite a few people would say ‘I’ll do this’ because they all saw me have a great time”.
However Livingstone says that short of Labour deciding “to rig another selection” the question for would-be challengers is “are you going to beat me on the ballot”.
His confidence at leading Labour’s Mayoral campaign stems from the belief that “party members are really proud of what we achieved, they compare what my Mayoralty achieved in 8 years with what 13 years of Blair and Brown achieved and I do not suffer by comparison”.