The single funniest thing about the London mayoral election has been watching the Left trying to excuse tax avoidance. After I revealed that his idol, Ken Livingstone, had saved a fortune by channelling six-figure earnings through a personal company, the Guardian’s Dave Hill pleaded that Ken’s previous condemnations of tax-dodgers ‘had been aimed at extremely rich people — which he isn't,’ so that’s all right, then. The Independent’s Owen Jones frothed that ‘the 1 per cent have an interest in demonising Ken Livingstone.’ But, Owen, Ken is the 1 per cent!
What’s been just as notable, though, in the last three months is quite how few of Labour’s finest have been willing to join Dave, Owen and the other cannon-fry in the Livingstone Mechanised Suicide battalion. As Ken’s character scores sink below even his tax rate — according to one recent poll, he is regarded as trustworthy by just 12 per cent of voters — the story of the campaign may come to be how Livingstone was destroyed, not by the evil Tories, nor by the wicked media, but by his own side.
In something I cannot remember witnessing in any other election, extraordinary numbers of Labour members, activists, parliamentary candidates, newspaper columnists and bloggers have openly attacked their nominee. Livingstone’s staff have had to plead with Labour councillors to get behind their candidate. Lord Sugar, a Labour peer, one of the party’s biggest donors and best-known celebrities, urged that ‘NO-ONE vote for Livingstone… Livingstone must NOT get in on May 3.’
I can only think of six London Labour MPs, out of 44, who actively support Ken. I know at least three who won’t even vote for him. Ordinary Labour voters are the same — Ken would be measuring up the drinks cabinets at City Hall by now if all the people who support Labour for Westminster could only be persuaded to back him.
The reason they don’t is simple. Any thinking Labour supporter knows it is vital for his or her party that Ken loses next week. He sums up, in a single beige-suited package, absolutely everything that Labour must ditch if it is to become electable in the country again: sectarian identity politics, pandering to minorities, wild and uncosted public spending. There can, indeed, be no clearer sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of tax-and-spend than the fact that Livingstone won’t subject himself to the high taxes he seeks for others.
For most of its life, the Labour Party was a coalition between the Mirror and the Guardian, Bevin and Crossman, industrial working class and metropolitan bourgeois. Its problem now is that the Guardian wing has come totally to dominate. More than a fifth of Labour’s members are in London, with its concentration of middle-class public-sector workers, though the capital is home to only a ninth of the country’s population.
Membership figures issued in 2010, the last to be broken down by constituency, show that Labour has substantially more members in Richmond Park — where it took just five per cent of the vote at the last general election — than in the Rhondda. It has five times as many members in Hampstead as in Hartlepool. It has more members in seven London boroughs than in the whole of Wales. Its presence in the suburban, middle-English swing seats it needs to win is skimpy.
The London middle-class left, of which Livingstone is the ultimate expression, has been the single most destructive force in Labour’s entire history, genetically programmed to detect the wishes of ordinary people and then do the opposite. It is substantially responsible for keeping the party out of power for the best part of the 1980s and 90s. The reason Boris Johnson won Dagenham, Redbridge, Croydon and Greenwich in 2008 was that mainstream voters thought Livingstone was interested in everybody except them.
If Ken loses again this week, in a city where Labour is currently 19 per cent ahead in the polls, Labour will have no option but to face all these realities. There’s also a faint chance that a Ken defeat could put the skids under Ed Miliband, another metropolitan figure without much voter appeal. Finally, a Boris victory would keep the Tory with the most attraction to Labour voters out of national politics for another four years.
What’s encouraging for the future of the Labour Party is that so many of its London members do seem to realise all this. He still might get in, but if he does it will be through the cat-flap.