Like a circle in a spiral

by Martin Smith

TRADE UNIONISTS could have stopped the Tories abolishing the GLC

"TONY BENN'S opposition to the war puts him in the position of someone who stands back when he sees a gang of thugs raping a woman." Many people were shocked that Labour MP Ken Livingstone launched this savage attack on Tony Benn last month. They considered Livingstone a left winger. His outburst makes John Carvel's new biography, Turn Again Livingstone, very timely.

Livingstone is the most popular candidate for mayor of London. Much of his popularity comes from his time as leader of the Greater London Council (GLC) in the 1980s. Many people hope Livingstone would use the position of mayor to stand up to Blair's right wing policies. The student protests, strikes and the movement against the Vietnam War radicalised a whole generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Livingstone claims half the active membership of the Labour Party resigned in protest at its right wing policies. He too was radicalised by these events but joined the Labour Party in 1969. He told Carvel, "I recognised that you weren't going to achieve social change other than through the Labour Party." This belief has shaped Livingstone's political life ever since.

Carvel looks at Livingstone's role as leader of the GLC from 1981 to its abolition in 1986. The Tories held power nationally. So socialists inside the Labour Party developed a strategy of using the town halls to bring about real benefits for working people. This was known as municipal socialism. The GLC introduced cheap tube and bus fares and promoted high profile campaigns for equal opportunities. Along with several other Labour controlled councils, it refused to comply with Tory caps on local government spending. That left Livingstone and his supporters with a choice. Either they broke the law and fought the Tories or they gave in. It is a choice which faces all those who try to reform the system.

Livingstone rejected the idea that workers had the power to defend the GLC and services. He and the Labour councillors capitulated. The GLC was the first major authority to give in. It was a massive defeat for the left. Carvel says the defeat of the GLC made Livingstone a marginal figure for the next 12 years.

Blair's decision to have a mayor and an elected assembly put him back in the spotlight. Blair has fought a desperate battle to stop him ever since. Carvel claims Livingstone has played a double game with the Labour leadership. Livingstone has organised a series of high profile rallies to put pressure on the Labour leadership. He told the press, "People want someone who is not a clone. Increasingly they want somebody who will speak up for them." But he says he will compromise with Blair.

Livingstone has said, "There is simply no question whatever of my seeking to use the mayorship as a platform to wage warfare against the government." Carvel even quotes a close friend of Blair who claims, "There was a distinct chance that Livingstone could have been offered ministerial office."

Carvel does not know which way Livingstone will turn. Over 1,000 crowded into the first "Let Ken Stand" rally at Westminster Central Hall in February. Carvel says the biggest cheer went to Socialist Workers Party member Mark Steel who urged people to vote for Livingstone "because we want to blow a great big hole in New Labour's rancid, weaselly project." Since then Livingstone has turned again.


Streets paved for gilded few

by Paul McGarr

LAST WEEK'S excellent BBC television programme The Pull of the City raised the issues that ought to be addressed in the election of London's mayor. Presenter George Monbiot, a columnist in the Guardian, stood on the high roof of a building in east London's Spitalfields. "Scary," he commented. "It's not the height—it's the bankers." He pointed out the corporate buildings eating up the capital: "The great walls of the City are closing in."

Monbiot slammed the way exclusive corporate developments and luxury flats are pushing aside ordinary people and public spaces. He celebrated the vibrant multicultural society of ordinary Londoners. He showed how it is under threat from the march of the rich, as it is in other cities. Monbiot urged planning and regulation in buildings, public spaces and transport to create the kind of city ordinary people could enjoy.

A sharp example came from Southwark. The New Labour council is heralding the building of the new Greater London Authority building in the borough. But it is looking at a scheme to bulldoze council estates behind the new building, pushing out ordinary people and selling the suddenly valuable land to developers. Lil Patrick is a local tenant leading the fight to stop the yuppies. He said, "All they see is pound signs. They don't want ordinary people in the area. I feel bloody angry." Right across the city people could tell the same story, of working class people being squashed as big business throws up fences, walls, security guards and "Private: Keep Out" signs.


THE TRIAL OF MARGARET THATCHER (Sat, 7.55pm, C4). It is 20 years since the Tories won the 1979 election. Labour MP Gerald Kaufman takes on Tory John Redwood in a studio "trial" of Thatcher. Both MPs call "witnesses", who include Eddie Shah, the print boss who smashed the unions at Warrington.

IF JOHN SMITH HAD LIVED (Sat, 7.25pm, C4). On the anniversary of Labour's second year in office, this programme ponders what Labour would have been like if Blair had never become leader.

COLD WAR: THE WALL COMES DOWN (Sun, 7.10pm, BBC2). The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Worth watching just for the footage.

RORY BREMNER: THE BLAIR ESSENTIALS (Sun, 9pm, C4). An hour long special skit about New Labour's second year in office.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFE (Sat, 9.30pm, C4). Enjoyable film with an anti-racist message. It tells the story of two women in the South of the US in the 1930s.