April 17, 2012 7:41 pm

Livingstone attacks cult of celebrity

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Ken Livingstone has attacked the cult of celebrity in politics, claiming it is preventing “a serious political debate” and would damage London’s administration.

The Labour candidate in the race to be the capital’s next mayor criticised the fact that few national politicians served an apprenticeship in local government. “It’s [now] a question of how funny can you be on the sofa at 9 o’clock in the morning on rolling TV. I don't think that’s adequate for a serious political debate.”

Speaking at a press lunch at the Commons press gallery on Tuesday, the former mayor, who is one of the few British politicians the public recognises by first name only, said: “I don’t want to think mayor after mayor of London is going to be a celebrity because I don’t think that gives you a well-run city.”

Mr Livingstone has been lagging behind his main rival Boris Johnson in polls ahead of the May 3 election, with a YouGov survey on Monday suggesting he was 6 percentage points behind the Tory mayor when other candidates were discounted.

Asked why the same poll identified a tranche of London Labour supporters who preferred to vote for Mr Johnson, Mr Livingstone expressed his frustration with the popularity of the current mayor.

“I meet people on the doorstep who are naturally Labour. They say: ‘Ooh, he does make me laugh.’ I say: ‘He’s just put your fares up.’ ‘Oh, I know, but he does make me laugh.’ ”

He added: “I didn’t come into politics to make you laugh.”

A question on privatisation prompted a vituperative attack from the man once considered the scourge of Margaret Thatcher when leader of the Greater London Council in the 1980s.

“Whatever savings are made by getting rid of jobs that working class men used to fulfil is then siphoned off by the shareholders or for obscene salaries for the new executives. Literally I can’t think of a single thing that’s got better because of privatisation,” Mr Livingstone said.

Mr Livingstone, who was mayor at the time of London’s successful bid for the Olympic Games, had harsh words for the London 2012 organisers, claiming that the “bureaucracy” in the body had “taken on a life of its own” and was “completely over the top”.

He attacked the VIP traffic lanes set aside for Olympic athletes and officials at certain hours of the day during the games, saying they would “alienate people”.

“If that isn’t sorted out basically we should say everyone on a bus is a VIP – they can go in the lanes as well – and the black cabs. You don’t want to be in a situation where the Olympics poisons people’s attitudes to the games.”

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