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Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone (born June 17, 1945), Mayor of London 2000 - present, was born in Lambeth, London. He was Labour MP for Brent East between 1987 and 2001.

He is also known as "Red Ken", a tabloid sobriquet, and is famous for his predilection for keeping newts.

Livingstone worked for eight years as a cancer research technician and also trained as a teacher. He was elected to the Lambeth borough council in 1971 and served as Vice-Chair of the Housing Committee from 1971 to 1973. (Among his fellow Lambeth councillors was John Major.) He became a Labour member of the Greater London Council in 1973 and served as Vice-Chair of Housing Mangement in 1974-1975. He also served on the Camden council from 1978 to 1982 and unsuccessfully stood for Parliament in the 1979 general election.

Livingstone was re-admitted to the Labour Party in January 2004 following a five year suspension (curtailed to four years) after he stood against the official Labour Party candidate as an independent in the first mayoral election.

Table of contents
1 GLC leadership
2 Livingstone in Parliament
3 London's first Mayor
4 Recent events

GLC leadership

In the election of May 7 1981, the Labour Party won control of the GLC, with moderate Labourite Andrew McIntosh (later Lord McIntosh) as leader. The day after the election, Livingstone challenged McIntosh for the leadership, defeating him by 30 votes to 20. The GLC immediately set about reducing the exorbitantly high bus and London Underground fares, subsidised by an increase in real estate taxes; this was dubbed the "Fares Fair" policy. Although the measure was generally popular and led to an increase in the use of public transportation, it was challenged by the Conservative-controlled council of Bromley (which covers a part of London which has no London Underground stations) and struck down by the Law Lords in December of 1981.

Despite his defeat in the fares battle, Livingstone would remain a thorn in the Conservatives' side, openly antagonising the Thatcher government by posting a billboard of London's rising unemployment figures on the roof of County Hall, the GLC headquarters, directly across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster. Under Livingstone, the GLC pursued a variety of radical socialist measures: sponsoring an "Antiracist Year," providing city grants to such groups as "Babies Against the Bomb," and declaring London a "nuclear-free zone." Livingstone made perhaps his most controversial move in December 1982, when the GLC extended an official invitation to Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison. In the event, Adams and Morrison were denied entry into the country under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and met with Livingstone in Northern Ireland instead.

Such actions made Livingstone a favourite target for the press, which referred to him as "Red Ken" and associated him with the "Loony Left," alongside Tony Benn, Militant Tendency, and other far-left elements within the Labour Party. However, he favoured European integration and proportional representation (neither of which were particularly popular causes among the British left at that time), and when both the GLC and the Militant-controlled Merseyside council protested the government's rate-capping policy by refusing to set a property tax rate, Livingstone relented rather than face the withdrawl of government grant money. Livingstone's practicality (relative to the rest of the Labour left) may in part explain why his popularity grew at a time when other "hard left" figures like Benn and the Militants found themselves increasingly isolated from the general public.

Following the Conservative sweep in the 1983 general election, the Tories forged ahead with their long-standing plan to abolish the GLC and devolve control to the individual boroughs. The GLC mounted a massive (and expensive) campaign to "save London's democracy," while the proposed abolition bill (which also abolished six other Labour-controlled metropolitan councils, including Merseyside) faced opposition from politicians on all sides, including former Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath. On August 2 1984, Livingstone and three other Labour councillors resigned, forcing by-elections that they intended to serve as a referendum of sorts on the abolition issue; however, the Conservatives cannily chose not to contest these seats, and the voter turnout was far smaller than Livingstone had hoped for. On December 15 1984, the House of Commons passed the Local Government Act of 1985 by a relatively slim twenty-three vote margin. The GLC was formally abolished at midnight on March 31 1986.

Livingstone in Parliament

Livingstone again stood for Parliament in the 1987 general election, winning a seat in the Northwest London constituency of Brent East. As a mere 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 chairmanship of Neil Kinnock and now blamed leftists like Livingstone for Labour's "unelectability." Nevertheless, he was elected to the party's National Executive Committee in September 1987, although he lost this position two years later (he regained it in 1997 in what some interpreted as a stinging rebuke to Tony Blair). He was returned to Parliament in the election of 1992, with a six percent 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, 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.

London's first Mayor

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 with powers similar to the old GLC; this new body would be headed by an elected mayor, the first in London's history. Livingstone was widely tipped for this new post; he still enjoyed a great popularity among Londoners, as evidenced by the massive 14% swing to Labour in the 1997 election for Brent East. The mayoral election was scheduled for 2000, and in 1999 Labour began the long and trying process of selecting its candidate. Despite Blair's personal antipathy, Livingstone was included on Labour's shortlist in November 1999, with the understanding that he would not run as an independent if he failed to secure the party's nomination.

Labour chose its official candidate on February 20 2000. Although Livingstone received a healthy majority of the total votes, he nevertheless lost the nomination to former Secretary of State for Health (and loyal Blairite) Frank Dobson, under a system in which votes from sitting Labour MPs, MEPs, and GLA members were weighted more heavily than votes from rank-and-file members. Speculation swirled that Livingstone would renege on his earlier pledge and run against Dobson; on March 6 he ended the suspense and announced an independent candidacy. He was suspended from the Labour Party the same day and expelled on April 4.

The result of the election - held on May 4 - was a foregone conclusion: Dobson, who had allegedly been pressured into running by the party leadership, showed no real enthusiasm for the job, and there was never any chance of the Conservative candidate prevailing in Labour-dominated London. Livingstone came out ahead in the first round of balloting with 38.11% of first-preference votes to Conservative Steven Norris' 26.5%; Dobson finished a humiliating third, with only 12.78% of all first-preference votes - just ahead of Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer, with 11.6%. Under the instant-runoff system employed for the election, Livingstone and Norris went onto the second round, where Livingstone won with 57.92% of first- and second-preference votes, versus 42.08% for Norris.

A car rental company's comment on the Congestion Charge

Recent events

To date Livingstone has not been fully reconciled with the Labour Party. One of the key points of conflict had been the proposed partial privatisation of the London Underground. Livingstone had proposed that funds should be raised to improve the Tube infrastructure by a public bonds issue, which had been done in the case of the New York City Subway. Labour kept pushing their public-private partnership scheme, to which Livingstone relented in July 2002.

Livingstone was also instrumental in introducing the London Congestion Charge, in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion in the city.

Also in November 2003, Livingstone was named "Politician of the Year" by the Political Studies Association, which cited his implementation of the "bold and imaginative" congestion charge scheme. The honour came a week after Livingstone made the headlines for referring to George W. Bush as "the greatest threat to life on this planet," just ahead of the President'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.

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 pave the way for Livingstone's readmittance. The deal hinged on a "loyalty test" adminstered by a special five-member NEC panel on January 9. The panel recommended that Livingstone be allowed back in the party, so a vote will now be taken of London unions and Labour Party members to determine if he will receive the party's nomination. The move towards readmittance came amid considerable opposition from higher-ups in the party, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, and former party leader Neil Kinnock.