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Progressive Londoners United for Ken

29/2/2008

Livingstone is a standard bearer for real progressive politics.

On 1st May London will elect a Mayor. It will either be Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson. Livingstone has been the front runner for re-election but alarm bells may be sounding.

One straw in the wind was the unprompted comment from a progressive colleague recently that she thought Johnson was going to win. This wasn&#39t a statement of desirability but feasibility.

Are the centre-left and the progressive voices and organisations of the capital sleep walking into the nightmare of a Johnson victory? Well maybe. But this isn&#39t just about the politics of London but a battle between the forces of progress versus reaction in the nation as a whole.

Let us be clear. Ken Livingstone is not perfect. Show us a politician who is. But he is not just a serious and skilled politician compared to almost any rival (but especially the horror and embarrassment of the Johnson alternative), Livingstone is a standard bearer for real progressive politics.

That is why this election matters to the nation, not just the capital. Livingstone represents a hope that something better is possible; that a different type of society – is not just some pipe dream of the left – but can be created. This is the reason he is under such severe attack. The Conservatives see a Johnson victory as a springboard to beat Labour at the next general election. They are piling in with every resource to make it happen – not least the negative campaigning skills of the Australian Lynton Crosby.

The lead attack dog is of course the Daily Mail group&#39s Evening Standard. The Standard is the most influential paper in the country because every decision maker and influencer in London reads it. It is being used day in and day out as a battering ram, not just against Ken Livingstone, but against the ideals of more democratic, egalitarian and sustainable politics. This is not the freedom and independence of the press but the disfigurement of the fourth estate into a blatant propaganda machine for the rich and powerful who fear the re-election of Ken Livingstone. It is indeed the few using their wealth and influence over the many.

Perhaps most alarming of all we see writers and commentators who claim to be ‘on the left&#39 taking the fight to Livingstone in a way that will only result in a victory for Johnson and all that means for the poor and dispossessed of the Capital and the future politics of our country.

So a battle is being waged in the country and it is time to stand and fight to ensure that Livingstone wins so that the ideals of democracy, equality and sustainability endure and are given new hope.

From a newly created post and a new institution Livingstone&#39s record is impressive and key milestones are listed below. But certain decisions stand out. Not least the Congestion Charge, which was as brave a political move as anyone has made in British politics for years because it socialised the failure of private transport and offered a coherent and workable alternative to the car against initial public opinion. On this issue Livingstone made the weather against the odds. Millions now enjoy better and cheaper public transport. When we look around London we see a public realm that has been transformed with renovated squares, parks and river banks for everyone to enjoy and share. It is a London at ease with its multi-cultural identity, and Livingstone has played a decisive role in that. Not least because he opposed the war in Iraq. This is the politics of equality and real opportunity.

Of course, like all of us, Livingstone operates in the here and now. For London that means the domination of the Square Mile in the form of financial capitalism. He cannot be expected to address such forces at once or alone. He has set up a Living Wage Unit for which he gets a big tick. He would get a bigger tick if he talked about the policy more. Trying to ensure everyone shares in success is difficult. But Livingstone is trying. Boris Johnson would just make everything worse.

Livingstone is pushing at the boundaries of politics; showing that public intervention can work. We need to ensure he is there not just for another term but to entrench progressive politics and a consensus that will make it happen.

London is a fairer, more tolerant and sustainable city because of Ken Livingstone and all that is put in jeopardy unless we act.

The future holds the promise of more affordable housing, even cheaper and better public transport, major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and getting the Olympics right. The London Climate Action Plan leads the world.

The battle lines are clear. It&#39s them and us. And Ken Livingstone is us. We urge every progressive voter, activist and organisation to get behind the campaign to re-elect Ken Livingstone. It&#39s not just that the alterative is so much worse – which it clearly is – but that the hopes of a more progressive politics rest on his shoulders and our ability to support him when it matters.

Since Ken Livingstone was elected Mayor in 2000 he has presided over a hugely successful progressive programme of change that has transformed our capital, demonstrating to the UK how modern left politics can make a real difference to people&#39s lives…

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