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Peter Hain on Ken Livingstone

I’ve written a review today of Peter Hain’s autobiography Outside In on the Left Foot Forward website (published yesterday), saying what a good read it was, and what an interesting person Hain is. I’ve also said that he is something of a conviction politician, which is good to see, and that clearly he was in it for changing the world, not careerism – which in spite of how you see his politics, or whether you agree with them, is noble at least.

On the 20th of January he was clearly delighted that Ken Livingstone was leading Boris in the opinion polls for the mayoral election. He said on twitter:

Great London/Ken poll wipes smile off smug Tory faces and caps off great week for Labour

In his book he did mention that in not supporting Ken for Mayor, Tony Blair’s New Labour control freakery was one example of the mistakes which led to Labour losing supporters (p.212).

But elsewhere (pp.159-60) he had this to say about Ken, which I love:

…I wanted to be effective, to be able to make a real difference. And that meant learning what not to do from Ken Livingstone … he seemed to go out of his way to make enemies, for instance on one occasion gratuitously insulting Labour MPs from northern England by falsely implying that they spent their evenings either drunk or in brothels.

Further in that chapter (p.185) he told the story of when Tony Blair asked him to be a whip in 1995, despite the fact  there was much “suspicion” about him.

Blair, according to Hain, explained:

how he would have wanted to bring Ken Livingstone in too, but that Ken’s behaviour had never permitted that. ‘I may not have liked everything you have said or written, Peter, but you have never been aggressive or personalised your criticisms like Ken has.’

Ken as a whip – imagine that. Rumour has it that Ken recently grassed on the Labour whip when back in the nineties they were encouraging MPs to claim a second-home allowance as supplementary to their wages.

If Ken’s behaviour had been better, he could have stopped that, theoretically.

Still, great intervention by Hain. It’s a great read.

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  1. January 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    In the 1970s and early 1980s, when I was on the LCC Executive with Peter, I have no doubt that he was “something of a conviction politician” and “in it for changing the world”. I am ready to believe that it hasn’t all gone and that he certainly still thinks of himself in that way. Even during the Blair years when he stayed in the Government, he occasionally spoke out and off-message. But where has he spoken out when Ed Miliband has been under fire and under pressure from the Blairites who still dominate the PLP and Shadow Cabinet?

    And actions speak louder than words: he is chair of the National Policy Forum that has not yet had any serious involvement in the policy review in 16 months. The Forum has met only twice in the term of the first constituency party representatives to be elected by individual members. They are now having to seek re-election in spite of not having been involved in any substantive discussion. Nor has the review of the party’s structure, “Refounding Labour”, which he leads, yet made any significant improvement in the power and influence of party members.

    Judged by his actions, rather than his autobiography, things are not as rosy as you suggest.

    • January 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      I hear what you’re saying Jon.

      I agree with John Kampfner who in his review of the book today said “I would rather parliament had more of his like, even the muted firebrand, than the new generation cloned from thinktanks and party work.”

      But with recent stuff it’s harder to praise. Because this is where his book led you, I tended toward concentrating on the time in SA through to work in NI and Wales and within Tony Blair’s inner ring, where he did play a critical role. But with, say, the Refounding Labour project, despite the work that went into submitting from CLPs, and the dire need for something to change to redemocratise the party, I wondered where the work had gone. I feel the same now.

      Funny, something like the NPF, as you mentioned, has his name written all over it. With the rise (and ongoing fall) of New Labour he was something of a balance between left and right and it was fair to have him chase the correct angles, but as you suggest there was an opportunity lost.

      However when you say

      Judged by his actions, rather than his autobiography, things are not as rosy as you suggest.

      I don’t think that’s fair, because I’m judging him on his book which largely concentrates on the actions of his political career starting from the age of 13, through to his other campaigning work and his parliamentary duties. To not be “rosy”, it seems I should only be judging him and his book (because it was this I was reviewing) by the actions of a couple of years.

      You’d be in a good position to review this yourself as you on the LCC Executive with him. There might be old stories it’s now time to turn over.

  1. January 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm
  2. April 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm

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