The Inventory: Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone, 66, was Labour MP for Brent East from 1987 to 2001. He led the Greater London Council from 1981 until 1986 and became the first elected mayor of London in 2000, serving until 2008. He is standing as the Labour party candidate in the 2012 London mayoral election.

What was your earliest ambition?

To be an astronaut.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

I went to the local comprehensive, which wasn’t terribly comprehensive as we were surrounded by grammars. I got four O-levels and you needed five for the sixth form. I got a job at the Royal Marsden Hospital as an apprentice technician. I spent the 1960s and 1970s seeking myself – the working-class tradition of self-education.

Who was your mentor?

Mr Rivers, my biology teacher, taught me about how you have to test your beliefs.

How physically fit are you?

In my annual medical the doctor said I had the heart of an athlete. I swim three times a week. I could lose a stone and then I’d be perfect.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Ambition. I’ve overtaken many more talented people than me just because I work harder.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

I did one myself and came out with 113; the level where you’d get into a grammar school in a bad year.

How politically committed are you?

My political beliefs are my moral, quasi-religious framework. Everyone needs some kind of framework of belief. Mine is a strange combination of things I pick up from socialist writers and basic, traditional English values about fairness.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

All the time. One of the things I find most fulfilling is making all my own compost.

Do you have more than one home?


What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A bigger garden.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Undoubtedly, the kids.

In what place are you happiest?

My home. I’ve lived there 21 years. It could do with a repaint, but we’ll get round to that. My books are there, my family, the garden.

What ambitions do you still have?

To be mayor of London again. That’s a pretty obvious one.

What drives you on?

I’ve always been a workaholic. I reckon, on average, I’ve had less than one day a year off in my working career.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

I’m tempted to say the congestion charge because it was against everybody’s expectation, but I think just surviving 30 years in frontline politics. I’m still here.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Not being prime minister.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

He would be amazed I was still alive. My 20-year-old self was totally tied up in natural history, full of angst and self-doubt. He would be amazed that I’d been mayor of London.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

You have to find whatever way you can to provide for the family.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Yes. I saw slow, agonising deaths at the Royal Marsden, so I’ve never had any doubt that it is justified.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

I’ve been an atheist since I was 11. I’ll be amazed if I die and then wake up to find there is something afterwards.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Nine. I’ve had an incredibly lucky life. My parents had no more prospects for me than getting a job with a pension.

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