"I actually think that Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen. The policies he is initiating will doom us to extinction."
The man who said these words, as President George Bush was due to land for his state visit to Britain last week, was one Ken Livingstone, London’s mayor.
That the chief executive of the second most important political city in the world should offer the press a loony left, not to say outrageously rude, opinion about a visiting head of state came as no surprise to the British public, who long ago dubbed Livingstone “Red” Ken.
His sobriquet comes from his days as chairman of the now defunct Greater London Council, which was the governing body of London before Margaret Thatcher became prime minister and closed it down as a nest of Marxists and Trotskyites. “Red” Ken had been the enthusiastic chairman of the GLC, pursuing a radical left agenda that sent London’s taxe rates soaring.
During the recent state visit, “Red” Ken spent £8,000 of taxpayer money on a street party featuring as speakers such retro Trots as fellow Labour Party dumpee George Galloway and playwright Harold Pinter, “for anyone who is not George Bush, who is not the legitimate president”. He went on later to say, “"I think George Bush is the most corrupt American president since Harding in the Twenties.” This while the Queen of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth was entertaining the president of the United States, Britain’s closest ally, at Buckingham Palace.
As the unfiltered stream of human spam surged down London’s streets, waving its banners and protesting the (long ago fought and won) war in Iraq, many of them leaving their personal dotcoms in shop doorways and behind trees in passing, London’s major newspaper, The Evening Standard, was already pasting the bills for its latest edition on its newsstands. They headlined the savagery just perpetrated against the protesters’ fellow citizens and their innocent Muslims cow-workers in Istanbul. The British Consulate-General had been bombed, killing the British consul-general among many others; and so had the Istanbul headquarters of Britain’s largest bank, HSBC. All told, 27 were murdered and more than 400 injured, some of them horrendously.
But the greatest threat to life on this planet is the president of the United States.
How did Ken Livingstone, the man once dubbed by Britain’s tabloid newspaper The Sun, “the most odious man in Britain” happen?
His background is drab. Born in a poor borough of London in 1945, he worked as a cancer research laboratory technician before, it will come as no surprise, training to become a teacher. Always a political activist, he got himself elected to Lambeth borough council and subsequently became vice-chairman of [public] housing. Later he became chair of housing in another borough.
He stood for Parliament as a Labour candidate, but lost. There were compensations, however. He was soon appointed Leader of the Greater London Council, and after that there was no stopping him. One radical left program after another, many of them quota-based, was shoe-horned into place and Ken became a star, with a staff of 22,000.
After Margaret Thatcher dealt the leftist GLC the death blow it so richly deserved, he stood for Parliament again, this time having a national, though largely unloved, profile and a new nickname: “Red” Ken. He won his seat, but failed in his ambition to shine in the House of Commons.
When Tony Blair decided Greater London (not the one square mile ancient City of London, which elects its own Lord Mayor of London) needed a unifying body to govern it and proposed a mayorship, Livingstone stepped forward smartly.
But Blair had been trying to erase the Labour Party’s loony left image and, knowing Livingstone tainted by his radical left programs, backed another candidate instead. In a complicated run-off within Labour ranks, Livinstone just missed being nominated and announced to the media that he would be running as mayor anyway, against Blair’s candidate, as an independent. Blair expelled Livingstone from the Labour Party and, many Londoners resentful that the national government in the person of Tony Blair was intent on imposing its own candidate on London, “Red” Ken went on to win on a protest vote.
Now in charge of a $12bn budget, this preachy socialist’s salary is around $350,000 a year and doesn’t begrudge himself the small comforts of life. Because he doesn’t drive, he is addicted to taxis, even taking taxis, at London taxpayer expense, from London to cities in the north of the country for meetings. He enjoys white wine. He enjoys collecting newts, possibly finding an affinity with the tiny reptiles, hates the United States and holidays in Cuba.
He has a quick and engaging wit, which defuses a lot of the high wattage dislike his opinions and actions engender. And such is his power to upset people that Blair has talked of backing down and inviting him back into the Labour Party.
His soul mate and mother of his child is the former chair of Camden Council's Women's Committee and now occupies the high flying post of head of the UK section of Amnesty International.
This is the man who clearly abandoned old lefty faves global warming, shipping of toxic waste, hydrocarbon emissions and nuclear weapons to label the president of the United States the greatest threat to life on our planet.
If politics is show business for ugly people, Ken Livingstone’s in the right trade.