Five minutes with Ken Livingstone

The former Mayor of London KEN LIVINGSTONE takes some time at the Union to chat to CHRISTINA SWEENEY-BAIRD and SARAH BEADLE about Blair, Brown and Jimmy Savile.

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Casually walking in to a room at the Union with a glass of red wine, Ken Livingstone is the living, breathing antithesis of Boris Johnson. There’s no schmoozing, not much introduction. Just Ken.

He’s one of the last remaining vestiges of Old Labour, which he bemoans in the Union debate following this interview. He joins us for a chat about Labour, the Olympics and some obligatory shameless self-promotion.

What do you think of the Labour Party at the moment?

I think that we now have a genuinely Labour leader, who likes me. My dealings with Blair and Brown were all really heavy going but I get on very well with Ed [Miliband]. He’s very direct, very honest. Whenever I was with Blair or Brown they would never say ‘no’ to your face. It was always ‘we’ll get back to you’ and they never did. But Ed will say, ‘well I disagree with this’. I like that directness.

You can tell he’s thinking about what Britain will be like in 20 years, which is exactly what you need in Politics. Especially after the nightmare of the New Labour years, when everything was about the next week’s opinion polls.

How will the last ten years will be remembered?

Definitely the banking crisis because in my opinion it ranks with the great depression. Despite all my bitter disagreements with Gordon Brown, we should accept that he broadly organised a response in terms of a growth stimulus package that was taken up by countries around the world. The response from 2008 to 2010 was right.

Since then our government’s done a U-turn and stopped the stimulus package. Merkel has led Europe with the idea that we can pain our way to triumph at the end, which clearly isn’t working. I think in 50 years from now we’ll consider this crisis as significant as the 1930s.

What do you make of the US elections?

There’s a real danger of Romney getting in and making the cuts he’s talked about. But we have no idea what he’ll do really, because he’ll say anything to anyone whose vote he’s after at the time.

What was the watershed moment in your time as Mayor of London?

There are so many, all of which are reported in good humour in my autobiography, which is available in all good bookshops. It was just wonderful: when I got elected, London was seen as declining, and failing, and businesses were talking about moving. In my 7th year as Mayor London’s reputation was overtaking that of New York. We turned the city around.

If I had to choose, possibly winning the Olympics. Or the day and the week that followed the bombings in London. The way that the city responded to the attacks was incredibly uplifting. No Londoner attacked another and the whole city was really united.

I think it’s the best city in the world to be mayor of. Even with the increases in power from Brown and Cameron, the Mayor of London still only has a quarter of the power of the Mayor of New York.

You recently appeared of the panel of ‘Have I Got News For You’. What was that like?

I love it but this last one was difficult. You meet about an hour before the show and they show the images. I said, ‘We can’t do Jimmy Savile. No-one can make a laugh out of that.’ But they were worried that if we didn’t do Jimmy Savile, they would say the BBC had leant on them. If you watch it, the conversation hits Jimmy Savile and it all goes very subdued.

The next thing that came up was Abu Hamza. You can’t really make many jokes, although Hislop did make one about missing an arm. It’s real struggle to recover as a light hearted family entertainment show after that.

What do you think of Boris Johnson?

Boris has carried on with all the things that I started. You have 12 years if continuing upward progress. There are still big problems. The mayor needs to start planning the infrastructure that will make the city work in the 2020s.

Ken Livingstone’s autobiography, You Can’t Say That: Memoirs, is out now.