A recent Channel 4 Dispatches TV program which was presented by Martin Bright, of the left of centre weekly magazine the New Statesman, was little more than a crude attempt to smear London’s left-wing Mayor Ken Livingstone. Bright’s accusations were straight out of a 1980s Thatcherite ‘smear a lefty’ handbook. All that was different in Bright’s program was that he had replaced being in hoch to the Soviet Union with a tiny cabal of Trotskyites, and thrown in Hugo Chavez for good measure. The accusations Bright makes about Socialist Action would be laughable if Livingstone were not facing re-election this May, for the days when Trotskyists sent a chill down the ruling elites spines are long gone.
Bright and Channel 4’s pathetic attempt to claim the Dispatches program was fair and balanced reporting came unstuck when on the day the program was due to be aired, the London Evening Standard published an article by Martin Bright which called on “all Londoners with a progressive bone in their bodies not to vote for Ken Livingstone in the forthcoming mayoral elections”.* To see just how unbalanced Mr Brights opinion of Livingstone is it is worth quoting the paragraph in full,
“I now believe Ken Livingstone is a disgrace to his office and not fit to be Mayor of London. Any Londoner with a progressive bone in his or her body should not consider voting for him in the forthcoming mayoral elections. Black, white or Asian, gay or straight, Muslim, Christian or none of the above: this is not a man who deserves your support. Writing as the political editor of Britain’s leading Left-leaning magazine, I believe the time has come for the Labour Party to drop him as its candidate.”
Whilst it is perfectly proper for a left of centre journalist to criticize a prominent left wing politician, indeed at times it is a duty, but when doing so if they wish to maintain their political credibility they must take into account who might gain from any criticism they may make. With the 1st of May 2008 London Mayoral election campaign about to begin and to-date as Ken Livingstone is the only left-wing candidate in the field, one must question Martin Bright’s motives in going public at this time with his criticism of Livingstone.
At one point Brights criticism of Livingstone in the Program were not dissimilar to a Monty Python type sketch about a group of middle class bores chatting over a whiskey in the 19th hole. Not only would this fragment have left Churchill spinning in his urn, it also made the program maker look a complete hypocrite when he went on to claim that Livingstone’s gofers were smearing people.
As to Brights claims about the deal that Livingstone cut over oil with Hugo Chavez I feel Tim Oxon best summed this up in a post to the indie e-list,
“The partnership with Chávez is a stunt but the cost to the people of Venezuela is neither here nor there. They have the satisfaction of knowing that Londoners have gone cap in hand to them for handouts. Also it is good for us to know that we are in debt to a third-world country for alleviating the lot of some metropolitan old people in a way in which our own government has failed to achieve. And it was good for Chávez to know that he has friends in London in high places”.
To sum up, Ken Livingstone is a career politician who has always put himself first, however to his credit on most of the big political issues that have arisen in the last 35 years he has come down on the side of the dispossessed and the economically poor. On issues like the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the troubles in the north of Ireland he has been to the fore in condemning UK governments policies and there are not many many mainstream politicos one can say that about these days.
Although when Ken decided on purple as his campaign color in his first bid to become London’s mayor, I new he had no intention of becoming a beacon for political change in the UK nor a lighting rod for a new Left Party, as it became clear his priority was always re-admittance to the Labour Party, for underneath Ken is a very conservative fellow and he is well aware that it is this which makes millions of working class people identify with him.
Never the less it is impossible to see how the working class people of London will benefit by the main opposition candidate Boris Johnson being elected Mayor on May 1st. He is a member of the reactionary and elitist clique of ex public schoolboys who have congregated around the Tory leader David Cameron. In the not to distant past Johnson claimed he had difficulty in understanding why people were “stunned” when he made insulting remarks about the working classes of Liverpool and he acted in a similar manner after making racist comments about the people of Papua New Guinea.