He became Labour MP for Brent East in 1987, after having been leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 to its abolition in 1986. Having failed to secure nomination as the Labour Party's official candidate in the first mayoral elections in 2000, Livingstone stood as an independent and won. He was suspended from the Party for five years for standing against the official candidate. In January 2004 he was re-admitted to the party following a curtailment of the suspension and stood as the official Labour Party candidate for Mayor in the June 2004 elections, which he won with a total of 828,380 first and second preference votes.
He is also known as "Red Ken", a tabloid sobriquet, and is famous for his predilection for keeping newts.
Born in Lambeth, London,Ken Livingstone attended Tulse Hill Comprehensive School. He worked for eight years as a cancer research technician (vivisection)and also trained as a teacher, qualifying in 1973. He was elected to the Lambeth borough council in 1971 and served as Vice-Chair of the Housing Committee from 1971 to 1973 (succeeding John Major in the job). He became a Labour member of the Greater London Council in 1973 and served as Vice-Chair of Housing Management in 1974-1975. He also served on the Camden council from 1978 to 1982 and unsuccessfully stood for Parliament in Hampstead the 1979 general election. While on Camden, Ken Livingstone gave permission for a strike by local government workers to be settled with a high pay offer; the District Auditor later ruled this amounted to illegal expenditure and a breach of fiduciary duty, but Livingstone was not surcharged.
In the GLC election of May 7 1981, Livingstone moved constituencies to marginal Paddington. The Labour Party narrowly won control with the moderate Andrew McIntosh as leader having denied that he would be deposed. The day after the election, Livingstone challenged McIntosh for the leadership, and defeated him by 30 votes to 20. This was the culmination of a long process in which the left had organised to ensure its members were selected as GLC candidates, and all voted as a bloc within the Labour Party. They had also ensured that the left had control of the Labour manifesto for the election.
The GLC then set about reducing bus and London Underground fares, subsidised by a special 'supplementary rate' in a policy known as "Fares Fair". Although the measure was generally popular and led to an increase in the use of public transportation, it was challenged by the Conservative-controlled council of Bromley where there were no London Underground stations, and struck down by the Law Lords in December of 1981.
Despite his defeat in the fares battle, Livingstone would remain a thorn in the Conservatives' side, openly antagonising the Thatcher government by posting a billboard of London's rising unemployment figures on the roof of County Hall, the GLC headquarters, directly across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster. Under Livingstone, the GLC pursued a variety of radical socialist measures: sponsoring an "Antiracist Year," providing city grants to such groups as "Babies Against the Bomb," and declaring London a "nuclear-free zone." Livingstone made perhaps his most controversial move in December 1982, when the GLC extended an official invitation to Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison. In the event, Adams and Morrison were denied entry into the country under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and met with Livingstone in Northern Ireland instead.
Such actions made Livingstone a favourite target for the press. He acquired the nickname "Red Ken" and The Sun described him as "the most odious man in Britain". However, he favoured European integration and proportional representation, neither of which were particularly popular causes among the British left at that time. When several Labour councils (including Militant-controlled Liverpool) protested against the government's rate-capping policy by refusing to set a property tax rate, Livingstone refused to join the campaign because he knew the GLC could run its services while keeping within capping limits. The GLC had already lost all central Government grant by 1983. Many on the left regarded Livingstone as having sabotaged the campaign and it led to a personal rift with John McDonnell, who had been Finance Chairman and Deputy Leader.
Livingstone's practicality (relative to the rest of the Labour left) may in part explain why his popularity grew at a time when other "hard left" figures like Tony Benn and the Militants found themselves increasingly isolated from the general public.
Following the Conservative sweep in the 1983 general election, the Tories forged ahead with their long-standing plan to abolish the GLC and devolve control to the individual boroughs. The GLC mounted a massive (and expensive) campaign to "save London's democracy," while the proposed abolition bill (which also abolished six other Labour-controlled metropolitan councils, including Merseyside) faced opposition from politicians on all sides, including former Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath. On August 2 1984, Livingstone and three other Labour councillors resigned, forcing byelections that they intended to serve as a referendum on the abolition issue. John Wilson, the Labour Chief Whip, served temporarily as Council Leader. However, the Conservatives cannily chose not to contest the byelections, and the voter turnout was far smaller than Livingstone had hoped for. On December 15 1984, the House of Commons passed the Local Government Act of 1985 by a relatively slim twenty-three vote margin. The GLC was formally abolished at midnight on March 31 1986.
Livingstone in Parliament
Livingstone again stood for Parliament in the 1987 general election, winning a seat in the Northwest London constituency of Brent East. As a mere Labour backbencher, Livingstone lost the public platform he possessed as head of the GLC; furthermore, his brand of radical socialism was increasingly out of step with the Labour leadership, which had moved sharply towards the centre under the chairmanship of Neil Kinnock and now blamed leftists like Livingstone for Labour's "unelectability." Nevertheless, he was elected to the party's National Executive Committee in September 1987, although he lost this position two years later (he regained it in 1997 in what some interpreted as a stinging rebuke to Tony Blair). He was returned to Parliament in the election of 1992, with a six percent swing to Labour in his Brent East constituency. Besides serving in the Commons, Livingstone held a number of other "odd jobs" during this period, including game show contestant, after-dinner speaker, and restaurant reviewer for the Evening Standard. In 1987 he published an autobiography-cum-political tract, If Voting Changed Anything They'd Abolish It.
London's first Mayor
Livingstone was again re-elected in the 1997 general election, in which Labour was returned to power under the leadership of Tony Blair. Among Labour's proposals was the establishment of a Greater London Authority with powers similar to the old GLC; this new body would be headed by an elected mayor, the first in London's history. Livingstone was widely tipped for this new post; he still enjoyed a great popularity among Londoners, as evidenced by the massive 14% swing to Labour in the 1997 election for Brent East. The mayoral election was scheduled for 2000, and in 1999 Labour began the long and trying process of selecting its candidate. Despite Blair's personal antipathy, Livingstone was included on Labour's shortlist in November 1999, with the understanding that he would not run as an independent if he failed to secure the party's nomination.
Labour chose its official candidate on February 20 2000. Although Livingstone received a healthy majority of the total votes, he nevertheless lost the nomination to former Secretary of State for Health (and loyal Blairite) Frank Dobson, under a system in which votes from sitting Labour MPs, MEPs, and GLA members were weighted more heavily than votes from rank-and-file members. Speculation swirled that Livingstone would renege on his earlier pledge and run against Dobson; on March 6 he ended the suspense and announced an independent candidacy. He was suspended from the Labour Party the same day and expelled on April 4.
The result of the election - held on May 4 - was a foregone conclusion: Dobson, who had allegedly been pressured into running by the party leadership, showed no real enthusiasm for the job, and there was never any chance of the Conservative candidate prevailing in Labour-dominated London. Livingstone came out ahead in the first round of balloting with 38.11% of first-preference votes to Conservative Steven Norris' 26.5%; Dobson finished a humiliating third, with only 12.78% of all first-preference votes - just ahead of Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer, with 11.6%. Under the modified instant-runoff voting system employed for the election, the votes cast for Livingstone and Norris (only) were considered in the second round, where Livingstone won with 57.92% of first- and second-preference votes, versus 42.08% for Norris.
Ken Livingstone quotes
One of the key points of conflict between Livingstone and the Labour Party had been the proposed 'Public-Private Partnership' for the London Underground. Livingstone wished to finance the improvements to the Tube infrastructure by a public bonds issue, which had been done in the case of the New York City Subway. However the Mayor did not have power in this area and Livingstone was forced to make a deal. The PPP deal went ahead in July 2002.
Livingstone was also instrumental in introducing the London Congestion Charge, in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion in central London. The charge reduced traffic levels by 15% and Livingstone intends to extend the zone in which the charge applies.
Also in November 2003, Livingstone was named "Politician of the Year" by the Political Studies Association, which cited his implementation of the "bold and imaginative" congestion charge scheme. The honour came a week after Livingstone made the headlines for referring to George W. Bush as "the greatest threat to life on this planet," just ahead of the President's official visit to the UK. Livingstone also organised an alternative "Peace Reception" at City Hall "for everybody who is not George Bush," with anti-war Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic as the guest of honour.
Livingstone applied for readmittance to the Labour Party in 2002 but was rejected. In November 2003, however, rumours emerged that the Labour Party would allow Livingstone to rejoin, just ahead of the 2004 London mayoral election. Opinion polls consistently gave a poor showing to Labour's official candidate, Nicky Gavron, and many in the party leadership (including Tony Blair himself) feared that Labour would be humiliated by a fourth-place finish. In mid-December, Gavron announced she would stand down as the Labour candidate in favour of a "unity campaign," with Gavron as Livingstone's deputy, with Labour's National Executive Committee voting 25-2 to pave the way for Livingstone's readmittance. The deal hinged on a "loyalty test" administered by a special five-member NEC panel on January 9. The panel recommended that Livingstone be allowed back in the party. The move towards readmittance came amid considerable opposition from higher-ups in the party, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, and former party leader Neil Kinnock. In a ballot of Labour Party members in London, Livingstone was overwhelmingly endorsed as the Labour candidate for the 2004 Mayoral election.
Livingstone was re-elected Mayor of London on July 10 2004. He won 35.70% of
first preference votes to Conservative Steven Norris' 28.24% and Liberal Democrat
Simon Hughes' 14.82%. Six other candidates shared the remainder of the votes.
When all the other candidates except Livingstone and Norris were eliminated
and second preference votes were counted, Livingstone won with 55.39% to Norris'