Ken, one Cricklewood household salutes you, what you stand for, and your achievements for London. The clock on progressive politics in London has been turned back two decades.
For us, as for other Cricklewood households, you have never been some aloof figure living in the shires, but genuinely a man of the people. We have seen you walking your toddler son along Anson Road and board the tube at Willesden Green. And when there were tube strikes, we have seen you wait for the bus on Walm Lane – just like all of us.
Of course you don’t know us, one household among thousands. But as a household we are inveterate letter-writers and our first one to you was in the 1980s – you were one of the few political leaders opposing Israel’s illegal invasion of Lebanon that led to the tragedies of Sabra and Shatila. We wrote in to the GLC – which you were then heading – commending your stand, and your response remains in our family files.
Whether in office or not, you are one of the great British political figures of our generation.
You and your team focused on representing London’s interests to the rest of the world; the new incumbents will be concerned with presenting Conservative policies to Londoners in preparation for the 2009 General Election. It will be some time before we have a progressive politician like you at the helm of affairs. We are grateful for what you were able to achieve and that golden period when you made us feel like stakeholders in the present and future of London.
The venom of the campaign against you brings to mind the amazing bitterness and resentment that was expressed in right wing circles in 1964/65 towards Harold Wilson, the first Labour prime minister after years of patrician Tory rule. The elite felt power slipping from their fingers and were even talking of a military coup!
For us, the black and ethnic minority communities and the faith groups of London, your stand in support of multiculturalism and against Islamophobia was progressive politics; for the neo-cons like David Goodhart, editor of Prospect, Martin Bright and others of this ilk in institutions like Policy Exchange, it has been the ‘balkanisation of London’!
There is now a new fanaticism in the air. A coalition of a xenophobic ‘England for the English’ movement and the pro-Israel lobby, for whom the State of Israel must be supported, right or wrong, have taken full control.
You had also openly challenged US hegemonic interests by engaging with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The US have a long record of interference in European political affairs – from CIA machinations to suppress left-wing movements in Italy and France after World War II, to infiltration of the British trade union movement ñ that cannot but persist to more recent times.
We remember some of your fair but forthright statements in the 2004 mayoral campaign on the situation in Palestine:
‘In 1997 a young Jewish man came to me and said, ‘I would like to vote for you but I can only support you if you are prepared to support Israel right or wrong’. I said that I would never support anyone right or wrong. I know some people think I have been very rude about Sharon- you should have heard what I said about Mrs Thatcher – and what I said about Roy Mason, a Labour minister in the 1970s who turned a blind eye to the torture taking place in Long Kesh. Jews came to me in the 1980s to say that when the mayor of Moscow visits, you must take up the issue of Jews who wish to leave Russia. And I wouldn’t meet the mayor of Moscow unless he agreed to spend an entire morning discussing human rights abuses in the Soviet Union and the abuse of Jews. I don’t believe Londoners want a mayor who ignores injustice.You will not have peace in the Middle East until Israel accepts and comes to terms with [the fact that] it was born out of terrorism and it has sustained its position by state-sponsored terrorism, decade after decade. The proof of this is not just the terrorism practiced against Palestinians but the terrorism practiced against the British troops before the expiration of the Mandate. And it was actually a future Prime Minister to be of Israel who oversaw the murder of British troops by hanging them, attaching grenades to their body parts so that the troops that came to cut them down would have their hands and faces blown off as well. When that happened there were riots against innocent Jews here in the East End. Thatís wrong. Until Israel admits what it did in driving people off their land, and admits that until recently it was legal to practice torture in order to extract information, until that happens we wonít get peace. A lot of Israelis only believe in the propaganda put out by their own State.î
The desperate tactics to stop your re-election included that notorious 16th April Evening Standard headline insinuating that your campaign was “run” by a supporter of suicide bombing, referring to the Hamas spokersperson in the UK, Azzam Tamimi ñ who in fact was not involved in running any such campaign.
The powerful Daily Mail media empire, with the Evening Standard in its stable, has been demonising you and your supporters for months. The suggestion was even made that the Muslim vote on 1st May would be inherently corrupt:”In London, Livingstone is relying on a huge turnout among inner city Muslims. If previous experience is anything to go by, ‘community leaders’ will simply collect the ballot papers from bewildered Muslims, especially women, and ‘help’ them cast their votes. Don’t be surprised to discover subsequently that a bloke in a burqa has voted a few dozen times using someone else’s polling cards. Officials would be too petrified to challenge him. There’s nothing new in vote-rigging. In 1960, the Mayor of Chicago turned out the dead to push John F. Kennedy over the line in the U.S. Presidential election. The Mayor of London wouldn’t complain if something similar happened in the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets provided it kept him in office.î (Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail, 28th April 2008).”
Your advisors at City Hall were men and women who shared your commitment to fight racism and prejudice. What are the prospects now? The British Muslim Initiative (BMI) has uncovered that Nicholas Boles, the former Director of Policy Exchange, has been given responsibility for vetting candidates for the most senior posts in Boris Johnson’s mayoral office.
In 2004 you courageously went ahead and invited the Islamic scholar Shaikh Yusuf Qaradawi to City Hall, pointing out rightly that it was important to “maintain dialogue with all of London’s faiths and communities”. In your inner cabinet were outstanding individuals like Redmond O’Neill, whose own background meant he understood the needs and concerns of marginalised and impoverished communities. Redmond and other staff helped launch inspiring events like the Eid in the Square, and commissioned several important conferences and reports that have raised the profile of Muslims in London, drawing attention to the problems of unemployment and Islamophobia.
Who will be there now to continue your initiatives such as bringing together Muslim communities and trade unions? The clock on progressive politics in London has been turned back two decades.
There is a price to be paid for speaking truth to power, but it is honourable to stand by one’s values. As you said at one of the recent hustings, ‘I came into public life to challenge injustice. It is not easy to challenge the existing balance of power’.
Ken, one Cricklewood household salutes you, what you stand for, and your achievements for London.