Ken Livingstone was born in Streatham on 14th June 1945. Ken
Livingstone's father was a window cleaner and merchant seaman and his
mother was a shop worker, dancer and usherette. He was educated at St
Leonard's Church of England School and Tulse Hill Comprehensive.
He joined the London Labour Party in
1969. After eight years working as a technician at the Chester
Beatty Cancer Research Institute, he entered Phillipa Fawcett Teacher Training College
in 1970, qualifying in 1973.
Between 1971 and 1978 he served as a member of Lambeth Council, holding
the position of vice-chair of the housing committee from 1971-73. In
1978 he was elected to Camden Council where he remained until 1982.
While on Camden council, Livingstone gave permission for a strike by
local government workers during the Winter of Discontent to be settled
with a high pay offer; the District Auditor later ruled this amounted to
illegal expenditure and a breach of fiduciary duty, but Livingstone was
Greater London Council
In 1973 he was elected as a Labour
member of the Greater London Council [GLC]. He was Vice-Chair of
Housing Management from 1974 to 1975 and was elected Leader in 1981.
In the GLC election of May 7, 1981,
Livingstone moved constituencies to marginal Paddington. The Labour
Party narrowly won control with the moderate Andrew McIntosh as leader
having denied that he would be deposed. The day after the election,
Livingstone challenged McIntosh for the leadership, and defeated him by
30 votes to 20. This was the culmination of a long process in which the
left had organized to ensure its members were selected as GLC
candidates, and all voted as a bloc within the Labour Party. They had
also ensured that the left had control of the Labour manifesto for the
The GLC then set about reducing bus and London Underground fares,
subsidized by a special 'supplementary rate' in a policy known as 'Fares
Fair.' 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, where there were no London
Underground stations, and struck down by the Law Lords in December of
Despite his defeat in the fares battle, Livingstone would remain a thorn
in the Conservatives' side, openly antagonizing 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 unconventional and controversial measures (some critics have
called "socialist"): 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. When
Adams was elected to Westminster, the ban was lifted. After meeting him,
Livingstone said that Britain's treatment of the Irish over the last 800
years had been worse than Hitler's treatment of the Jews.
Such actions made Livingstone a favourite target for the press. He
acquired the nickname 'Red Ken' and The Sun described him as 'the most
odious man in Britain.' However, he remained popular with the voters,
1982 he came in second to the Pope in BCC Radio 4's Today programme's
'Man of the Year'.
Livingstone's preference for practical
politics, which was being demonstrated at a time when the rest of the
Labour left were more interested in theoretical debates, may in part
explain why his popularity grew. Other politicians identified as the
'hard left,' such as Tony Benn and the Militant Tendency, 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 byelections that they intended to serve as
a referendum on the abolition issue. John Wilson, the Labour Chief Whip,
served temporarily as Council Leader. However, the Conservatives cannily
chose not to contest the byelections, 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.
Shortly after the
abolition of the GLC, Livingstone won the Brent East
From 1987 to June 2001, he served as
Labour Member of Parliament for Brent East. He was elected as member of
the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party between 1987 to
1989, and from 1997 to 1998, defeating Peter Mandelson to gain election.
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.' It appears
that Livingstone did not think much of the Houses of Parliament. In
1988 he said "Parliament is worse than I thought it would be; it's
like working in the Natural History Museum, except not all the
exhibits are 'stuffed'." He wrote two books during this
period, If Voting Changed Anything They'd Abolish It (1987) and
Livingstone's Labour (1989).
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. It appeared though, as if the sunset of his political
career was upon him.
Livingstone was once 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
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
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. Using the votes cast by a handful of union
barons, Dobson, who was pressured by Tony
Blair to stand down from the Cabinet and run for the post, managed to
secure the Labour candidacy by the narrowest of margins over Livingstone,
with Glenda Jackson coming third in the poll.
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.
But he decisively beat Dobson and all the other candidates in an incident-filled election, becoming the first modern
elected Mayor of London.
One of the key points of conflict between Labour and Livingston has been
the proposed partial privatization of the London Underground.
Livingstone had proposed that funds should be raised to improve the Tube
infrastructure by a public bonds issue, as had been done in the case of
the New York City Subway. But Labour kept pushing their public-private
partnership scheme, to which Livingstone was forced to concede, after he
lost a legal challenge in July 2002.
Livingstone was also instrumental in introducing the
London Congestion Charge, in the face of strong opposition and
much skepticism, in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion in central
London. The Charge has seen traffic levels fall by 18% and bus
passenger numbers rise.
have been much lower than predicted, with officials now expecting to collect about £70 million
pounds this year as opposed to the £180 million originally claimed. In
addition, criticism of the scheme hasn't ended, with a number of business
leaders claiming it has had a negative impact on trade.
(Liberal Democrats): 15.2%
(UK Independence Party): 6.2%
(British National Party): 3.1%
(Green Party): 3.1%
His early title of "Red Ken" given to
him by the tabloids is still used by many, particularly the businesses
opposed to the charge. Ironically, the idea emerged from the business community before
being promoted and implemented by Mayor Livingstone.
Livingstone was re-elected Mayor of London in 2004. When all the candidates except Livingstone
and Norris were eliminated and the second preferences of those voters
who had picked neither Livingstone or Norris as their first choice were
counted, Livingstone won with 55.39% to Norris's 44.61%. Some
commentators believed that his re-election as mayor was hindered rather
than helped by his readmission to the Labour party.
Ken Livingstone was publically criticised in February 2005 after it was
inferred that he had compared a Jewish Evening Standard reporter to a
concentration camp guard after he tried to interview him after a party.
Assembly voted unanimously for him to issue an apology but he
did not, stating, 'The form of words I have used are right. I have
nothing to apologise for.'
Livingstone further sparked controversy
in a March 2005 commentary in The Guardian where he accused Israel's
prime minister Ariel Sharon of being a war criminal, citing his
involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre and accusations of ethnic
|On May 15, 2006 President Hugo Chávez of
Venezuela become the second head of state - after the
Queen - to be welcomed to London's City Hall.
In February of 2007 Ken Livingstone, in a
ceremony at London City Hall,
signed an oil deal with Venezuela - providing cheap fuel for
London's buses and giving cut price travel for those on
The mayor of London said the agreement will
help provide half-price bus and tram travel to some 250,000
Londoners on income support.
Representatives from the Venezuelan government
and the oil company Petróleos de Venezuela Europa (PDVE) were at
The incoming London Mayor Mr Boris Johnston
quicky axed the oil deal within weeks of taking office. At the
time he said: "I think many Londoners felt uncomfortable about
the buses of one of the world's financial powerhouses being
funded by the people of a country where many live in extreme
Mr Livingstone attacked the move as "a direct attack on the
"This was not a terrorist
attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at
Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary,
working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian,
Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt
to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for
class, for religion, or whatever."
Mayor Livingstone's remarks and statesmanship drew respect from
across the political spectrum and the 7/7/2005 atrocity marked
the cessation of the feud between Mr Livingstone and the Evening
Standard, who co-operated with him on the creating of a disaster
Mayor condemns 'cowardly' attack
(7 July 2005)
BBC video of Livingstone's statement (Realplayer format)
just about everything that is repellent in politics... You have
got this super-patriotic hawk who was a coward when his country
was actually involved in a war and has the most venal and
corrupt administration since President Harding in the 20s. He is
not a legitimate president... This really is a completely
unsupportable government and I look forward to it being
overthrown as much as I looked forward to Saddam Hussein being
- Public comment about the administration
of US President
George W. Bush (8 May 2003)
- "First of all, I've never heard of the
fellow. Second, I'm not going to dignify it with a response.
White House Press Secretary, in response to questions
about Livingstone's comments of May 8th 2003 about the
Ken Livingstone as the new Member of
Parliament for Brent East
Racism is a uniquely reactionary
ideology, used to justify the greatest crimes in history — the
slave trade, the extermination of all original inhabitants of
the Caribbean, the elimination of every native inhabitant of
Tasmania, apartheid. The Holocaust was the ultimate, "industrialized"
expression of racist barbarity.
Racism serves as the cutting edge of the most reactionary
movements. An ideology that starts by declaring one human being
inferior to another is the slope whose end is at Auschwitz. That
is why I detest racism.
On July 20, 2005, Livingstone
made the following comments in a BBC interview about
the role of
foreign policy as a motivation for the bombing:
I think you've just had 80 years of western intervention into
predominantly Arab lands because of the western need for oil.
We've propped up unsavoury governments, we've overthrown ones we
didn't consider sympathetic.
And I think the particular problem we have at the moment is that
in the 1980s ... the Americans recruited and trained Osama Bin
Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to
kill the Russians and drive them out of Afghanistan.
They didn't give any thought to the fact that once he'd done
that he might turn on his creators.
A lot of young people see the double standards, they see what
happens in Guantanamo Bay, and they just think that there isn't
a just foreign policy.