Friday, March 07, 2008

Voting for the soul?

The resignation of Lee Jasper – Ken Livingstone's equalities advisor - could provide the Mayor with useful cover under which he can appeal to a small-but-important section of the public that don't really think that they can go anywhere else, but are reluctant to vote for him.

I'm in this particular quartile, by the way. And while my own objections may be a bit esoteric, I think that there is a wider general perception that Ken is a fine politician, but that he blots his copybook badly with his dishonesty / posturing / politiking around issues of race, communal politics and a Joe-Strummerish desire to be positioned is the retreating shadow of Che Guevara.

More than the allegations about being tipsy at the wheel, or the hints of graft in City Hall, I think that it costs him votes among his natural allies.

For me, this raises an important question. How fundamental is the perceived character of an individual in one's decision on how to vote.

I see Ken as an extreme case here, so he really foregrounds the question well – even if you don't agree with me about his flaws. If you have an absolutely great candidate, but they continue to strike a posture that disgusts you, can you still vote for them? And how important is it that the obnoxious posture that they are striking doesn't even impact upon their job that much?

I say this because – in many ways – I hold Ken in some degree of awe. More than any politician, I think that he is almost the definitive elected representative in so many ways. Anyone who is as obsessed with the defence of representative democracy as I am has to acknowledge that Ken is – in many ways - the finest specimen ever seen on these islands. He not only illustrates the virtues that all elected officials could possess – if only they had the brains, the skills and the audacity - but he has developed a few traits that even the most wishful democrat wouldn't have hoped for.

I've banged on about this before over at the trots, and - in summary (to save you reading *another* over-long post), it lists the ways that Ken has excelled as a Mayor (and prospective Mayor).

And it doesn't end there, either. I don't have that much time for a lot of the mainstream left's objections to Ken. For instance, it has been suggested in a few places that Ken is still a member of Socialist Action – a shadowy revolutionary cell that is seeking to subvert democracy from within.
I can understand why Marc Wadsworth would make a big deal about this – anyone who watched London's anti-racist movement at close quarters in the 1990s will recall the fervid sectarianism that infused every part of it (a clue: Wadsworth didn't come out of it very well).

But for Martin Bright to say ...
“...there is now no doubt in my mind that Socialist Action has carried out the most successful Trotskyist entryist operation since Derek Hatton's Liverpool. Vote Ken Livingstone, get Socialist Action.”
...well only a journalist with a story to sell would take that line seriously.

I don't think that it's part of any coherent entryist plan. I'm with Paul Anderson on the question of Socialist Action: It doesn't really exist any more.

Ken isn't using his office to hatch a dastardly insurrection, and the worst that you could accuse him of here is that he's taken a group of people who got themselves into a Trotskyist cul-de-sac back in the day, and used those relationships to create a tight-knit team of loyal acolytes around himself. No-one has needed that more than Ken, and much of his success as a mayor wouldn't have been possible without it.

He should be applauded for this – not condemned. In doing so he's succeeded where so many ineffectual new Labour ministers have failed. Ken is able to impose himself on his civil servants.

It's great that he has done so while this is still possible, without being sidetracked into a sludge of compromise and 'consultation'

I've heard a few critics claim that he betrayed Labour in 2000, and now he's appealing for party discipline in the face of internal Labour dissent now. This is nonsense. The original mayoral selection was such a massive exercise in bad-faith, Ken was entirely justified in serving the party bureaucrats with their arses on plates.

If that were not enough, I'm not very impressed with the way that Ken's detractors have gone after him. If I knew nothing else about him, the fact that Ken has drawn an obsessive enmity from the loathsome Evening Standard should be enough to guarantee him anyone's vote. I'm even not very impressed with the way that some hacks that I often rather like – specifically Nick Cohen and Martin Bright – have targeted him.

I'm even inclined to share Ken's suspicion that much of the hostility from lefty journalists – surrounding his alleged corruption – springs less from a dissatisfaction with his work as a Mayor – or even a real concern about corruption – and has more to do with a 'decentist' vendetta.

As Ken himself points out, these allegations of graft will disappear the day after the election – whatever the outcome.

And if that isn't enough, I'd go *even* further. One of the most unpleasant symptoms of our uptight, constipated political culture is the ease with which any political hostility can be short-circuited with an allegation of corruption. This takes a number of forms. It can be a Mornington Crescent-style game of pinning some piece of mismanagement at the door of a target public figure. Or it can be incompetence or cronyism on the part of an associate.

Yet, as far as I can see, if you haven't accrued a couple of advisers with a dodgy hinterland, and if you haven't pulled a few short-cuts over the last couple of decades, you probably haven't achieved anything as a politician. The politics of perpetual investigation can only lead to a much worse form of government in the long run (as I argued here, here and here)

And, rounding it all off, Ken's record as a Mayor is – in most respects – excellent. There is a good utilitarian defence of him, and Dave Cole has written it so that I don't have to.

So, surely, all sensible people should attempt to put their paltry vote up as a counterweight to this vast and anti-democratic idiocy – even if there are aspects of Ken's record that we dislike?

Well, while we're thinking about utilitarianism though, there's what Maryam Namazie has called the... “...whirlwind love affair with political Islam” of the left. And Ken is one of her chief offenders here.

There's no need for a long rehearsal of the charge-sheet.

Ken has lionised people who have expressed genocidal views and promoted communalist politics. I don't know whether he did so to satisfy what remains of his youthful insurrectionist self, or because he somehow fancies himself as an American-style city boss? But I do know that it reflects woefully on his character. In a city like London, promoting communal politics – particularly in consorting almost exclusively with non-representative extremists in order to shape your engagement with any particular community – is simply inexcusable. It's irresponsible, and fundamentally anti-democratic.

Furthermore, there's the nature of those that he consorts with here. For a man who built his reputation on the rainbow liberation politics of the 1980s, to invite people who would kill gays and Jews, or enslave women is such a huge outrage that it almost eclipses everything else that he's done.

The odd thing about this is that he hasn't really needed to do this. He's taken a number of opportunities to get himself involved in thorny questions that he didn't need to. Ken's interventions on race matters – aside from generating a noisy debate – have probably changed very little. He may have chucked money at various communialist and extremist organisations, but again, it is unlikely to result in much harm, or in any real positive benefit to those groups. His funding for MCB initiatives have only really embarrassed him.

I've seen claims that anti-semitic attacks are on the increase, but laying that at Ken's door would be a bit harsh in itself. But for a democratic politician to be even-handed with those who would promote anti-semitic attacks – it is such a negation of liberal democracy.

So, I return to the question: Ken's soul. Does it disqualify him for office? If you vote for the person – not the policies (I do) then the answer is likely to be ‘yes’.

However, if he were to provide Londoners with a signal that he will rein in his more controversial urges on this front – ensure that his personal prerogative will not stretch into areas that he has little influence on anyway, and that he is suspect, then that refusal turns into a 'maybe'. If he were to appoint a new 'equalities adviser' – someone who was on the record criticising his invitation to Qaradawi, someone who is notably impatient with pressure groups in general, and communal ones like the MCB and MAB in particular – then that it becomes a 'better-than-maybe'.

Go on Ken. Repent – as much as you can without it backfiring. Appoint a half-decent equalities adviser. Send a signal that you will stick to what you're good at: Transport, policing, demanding more powers for yourself. And tell the public that the weirdo that invited Gerry Adams to London in the 1980s and his clerical equivalent in recent years is retired.

If you can repent of, or constrain, a bad soul, then maybe you do deserve a vote. There is greater joy in heaven …. etc etc.

And even if you don’t share my view on Ken’s communalism (etc) I’d be interested he read comments on the general question of how you vote if you admire the skills but deplore the character of a candidate.

Either way, I'm not an abstainer. And I'm really not going to vote for a tosser like Boris, a self-righteous poseur like Paddick, or any hippy from the fucking Green Party. I desperately need someone to come up with some fig-leaf that will allow me to present a good reason for voting for Ken – when I almost certainly do so on the day.


fake consultant said...

the character vs. performance issue is also huge in the us democratic primaries, where perceived character, rather than issues, divide hillary and obama.

at the moment hillary is trying to sully obama's character...and it might backfire on her, much as many of livingstone's actions have.

in both cases, it makes for very intreresting politics, even if it doesn't make for the most smooth governance.

a very public sociologist said...

You could always give Lindsey German a punt if Sian Berry's not to your liking ;) But make sure you 2nd pref Livingstone.

Paulie said...

Lindsey German can absolutely fuck off in every way imaginable as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

I quite liked Ken. I just don't like his advisors and his cronies. They are by and large a useless bunch of b*st*rds. Take some very average revolutionary socialist councillors and make them into advisors for one of the most important cities in the world. Ken's done well despite having such bad advisors and pals, eh?!

Mind you - where it counts, such as Transport in London, he is delivering and he was right about the PFI contract being bad for London, as it turned out to be.

Lee Jasper didn't do things so much differently from a Cabinet minister by telling civil servants to do things. What he appears to have done wrong, according to the Evening Standard, is instructing these civil servants to ignore public procurement rules and award contracts to organisations and people that were pals of his and who didn't deliver.

Oh and he organised a rival carnival to the Notting Hill Carnival on the same day, and about a mile away in Hyde Park. What a waste of time and money.

Ian said...

I don't like Ken one bit. He's a self-aggrandising, arrogant pr*ck who as you point out has displayed a real lack of judgement, from the appalling invitations you mention to that berserk attack on an Evening Standard journalist.

But I'm going to vote for him anyway, because his policies, as anonymous says, are delivering - and Boris Johnson offers very little of substance, just comedy value. If Paddick had a chance I'd look into it a bit more closely, but he doesn't.