Andrew Gilligan reports:
Ken Livingstone at one stage promised to campaign in every London council byelection – and he’s certainly been to the vast majority, including hopeless Shortlands in Bromley (where Labour got 10%),Worcester Park in Sutton (11%), Southfields in Wandsworth (17%), and so on.
But there’s one byelection coming up the day after tomorrow which Ken has not so far managed to fit into his busy schedule – even though Labour has an able candidate, a big operation on the ground, and an excellent chance of gaining back a seat from the opposition. This seat, indeed, was won by Labour at the last council election with 43 per cent of the vote and a majority of more than 500, but the sitting Labour councillor defected to the opposition before being sacked from the council for housing benefit fraud.
Ken has been repeatedly asked by the Labour Party to come and help its candidate in this byelection. Sadly, according to local Labour councillors, he has refused, even though he knows the area all too well and has campaigned here before. The problem, you see, is that when Ken campaigned here before, it was… for the opposition, and against Labour.
This byelection is in Tower Hamlets – fiefdom of the Livingstone-backed and extremist-linked executive mayor, Lutfur Rahman, thrown out of the Labour Party for his close relationship with the Islamist group, the IFE. In this very ward, Spitalfields, Lutfur was himself once a councillor – and still maintains at least an official residence. In this very ward, Ken was filmede ndorsing Lutfur and dissing Labour’s own candidate for the mayoralty, Helal Abbas.
In this same ward, Spitalfields, the IFE has helped secure some truly astonishing swings to Ken – from 29 per cent of the vote in the 2004 mayoral election to 68 per cent in the 2008 one – and with London voters in general proving resistant to the Livingstone message, that sort of assistance is especially badly needed as Ken’s own election day nears. No wonder there’s a conflict of loyalties!
“Both Josh Peck and Chris Weavers (Labour leader and organiser in Tower Hamlets) have asked Ken to come and campaign in Spitalfields,” said one Labour councillor. “He has refused. Instead, a couple of weekends ago, he went to a different part of the borough, the Roman Road, and wouldn’t come to Spitalfields.”
I’ve heard the same story from Labour people in Tower Hamlets.
Look, I appreciate that some of you out there take the view that there’s a battle out there: between Labour and Tory. And so, now is the time for all good men to rally to the party.
Except, really, that’s not what is happening at all. Ken Livingstone has shown, time and time again, that he is the anti-Labour candidate. His cadre are entryists from another, completely different political party from Labour. He regards Mayor Lutfur Rahman as his guy, campaigned for him, and won’t campaign properly against his man.
What we’re seeing, now, is a battle for the future of the Labour Party. If Livingstone wins, he will have shown that his strategy of sectarianism, pitching London’s populations against each other, is a winner. If he loses, then there’s a prospect at least that Labour will be able to resist Livingstonism.
You disagree? Well, let’s see what happens, this time.