Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
With Labour’s strong showing at the polls depriving the Blairites of the opportunity to machinate about taking back the leadership, the defeat of Ken Livingstone was seized upon with predictable alacrity as an occasion to snipe at the left. Not that all, ‘Labour’ activists waited until the votes had been counted to start the attack, of course. Lord Alan Sugar thanked the party which gave him his title and unelected position in the legislature by announcing he would refuse to support its candidate for the mayoralty. Prominent blogger Alex Hilton openly voted for independent candidate Siobhan Benita, whilst Dan Hodges went one better by joining his Torygraph paymasters in advocating a vote for Boris.
In this context it was no surprise to see right-wing hack (and self-styled scurge of the left) Luke Akehurst so quick off the mark in dancing on Ken Livingstone’s political grave. Livingstone’s enduring popularity with Labour supporters in London had long frustrated the likes of Akehurst, for whom Ken represented a stubbornly persistent strain of the Bennism otherwise purged or easily marginalised from New Labour: ‘This flying circus of 1980s vintage ultra-leftism was only kept in the air because its ringmaster, Ken, had a machine and a populist charisma and an administrative ability that no one else on the Hard Left had.’
Ironically, of course, Ken’s original election as Mayor was won in the teeth of a concerted attempt to subvert the selection process and bar Labour members from picking Ken as their preferred candidate. As an independent, Ken’s campaign had the force of a political insurgency, leaving the official party candidate and right wing parties in his wake. If returning to the Labour fold provided the financial and political security that comes with a permanent machine, it did not come without strings attached. In office, Ken’s populist left rhetoric did not sit comfortably with his active role as defender of the City’s role as a hub of global capitalism, or the conduct of the Met police in the Jean Charles de Menezes case. True, he out-polled Labour’s GLA vote share in his 2008 Mayoral bid, but the association with the Brown government can’t have helped.
No single factor can account for the defeat this time. Boris was a uniquely difficult opponent, having the ability both to mobilise the Tory core vote whilst also acting as an affable clown who appealed to a section of the electorate otherwise bored by humdrum politicians. Johnson was also supported by a highly effective negative campaigning machine martialled by Australian fixer Lynton Crosby, making Ken’s opaque tax affairs a key campaign issue and deflecting proper scrutiny of Boris’s own record and policy platform. In this the Tories were assisted by their influential friends in the media. The grip of the Evening Standard over London politics (particularly since its transition to a free-sheet thrust into the hand of hundreds of thousands every day) has been especially pernicious. The print media is very rarely a friend to Labour candidates, still less so when they stand on the left. But the free distribution of such an obviously partisan perspective becomes perilously close to a ‘donation in kind’ to the Conservatives. There is a strong argument that free-sheets should be bound by the same kind of political neutrality criteria that applies to the broadcast media.
But whatever the strength of his opponent, Ken’s narrow defeat was not inevitable. Even Akehurst has to admit the meticulously professional way in which Patrick Henegan and Simon Fletcher ran the campaign, and in putting lower fares and the need to tackle London’s housing crisis at the centre of the manifesto, Ken’s team locked onto genuine concerns for ordinary Londoners. But Labour failed to drive up turnout sufficiently in its inner-London heartlands. Labour’s ‘offer’ was solid but Ken’s candidacy did little to electrify the contest, in stark contrast with the way George Galloway was able to do in Bradford West.
Far from having a slicker, more ‘on-message’ and centrist politician fighting the contest (which is what many of Ken’s critics appear to prefer), in reality the downturn in Ken’s fortunes has accompanied the loss of his insurgent edge. Far from Ken being too tainted with a 1980s leftism, his electoral fortunes would surely have been boosted by a return to the oppositional tubthumping of his GLC days. If he stood in a looser relation to the party machine, he could have galvanised national opposition to cuts and austerity (including the slightly milder dose prescribed by Miliband and Balls), and defended direct action and other forms of resistance. He could have spoken out against the ongoing war in Afghanistan and of police harassment of black, Asian and white working class youth. By giving free reign to his maverick radicalism, Livingstone might have electrified popular opinion in London and beyond, and looked less like a tired shadow of his former self. Sadly, this isn’t what most of his critics have in mind.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency