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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 April 2006, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Olympic task
On Sunday 02 April 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed London's Mayor, Ken Livingstone

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

London's Mayor, Ken Livingstone
'The thing about politics is no-one asks anybody to like them'

ANDREW MARR: Now, 20 years ago this weekend, the Greater London Council lost its battle for survival and was shut down by Margaret Thatcher. The then leader of the GLC, Ken Livingstone, Red Ken, swore that one day he would be back and so it was.

He brought London the Congestion Charge, St Patrick's Day celebrations and now the city has to think ahead about the Olympics. Mayor Livingstone talked to me earlier at his spectacular City Hall HQ, down river from the old GLC building, and I started by asking him what he thought London had lost by the abolition of the GLC back in 1986.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: After we were abolished everyone said, well nothing's gone terribly wrong, I mean London didn't come to an end. But all the things - not investing in the Underground, not keeping the housing supply going, not building up a waste recycling, it's almost as though London was frozen in time.

And that would've been bad enough but at the same time and without anyone planning it everyone started moving back to London, so we're the only major city in the Western world where the population is growing really strongly.

So whilst the facilities were being ignored more and more people are using them. I mean someone goes to Accident & Emergency it seems like they'd die of old age before they get seen. Or that, I mean the transport system is so crowded so, really the last five years and the next fifteen are really playing catch-up.

ANDREW MARR: It's also I reckon two and a half years or so since you've joined the Labour Party.


ANDREW MARR: Again. Now that the election's coming up I have to ask you, what do you make of all the really serious allegations about loans and funding and so on? How much damage is that going to do?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well, I mean, the Metropolitan Police are investigating this. I am certain what they will discover is neither the Tory Party nor the Labour Party have ever said to anyone, give us a million and we'll see you right with a peerage.

But I mean really throughout the last thousand years, first kings then prime ministers have tended to reward people who have actually funded their, their administrations. And the only way to stop this is either state funding or be just much more rigorous.

We've got this twenty-five million pound limit for election spending, well why not just make it five million? There's no point putting all these adverts in the paper no-one believes a word any of us say during an election campaign actually.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think Tony Blair's finished because of all of this?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, I mean, let's not forget it's only last summer everyone was saying after the Olympics, after the way he handled the G8 Summit and the bombings, that oh perhaps he should carry on, perhaps he shouldn't stand down. And who knows where he'll be in six months time.

And so I consider most of this sort of flim-flam and I mean I'm so tired of reading about it, if I have to read another story about when he's going to go - I mean I think nobody, I mean I think people are just tired of hearing it.

ANDREW MARR: And of course there's still an assumption that when he does go it'll be Gordon Brown.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think that's a pretty overwhelming assumption.

ANDREW MARR: Yes I mean but how would you feel about that?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I mean I, I've said some pretty nasty things about Tony Blair in my time, the Labour Party had me back in because we have delivered in London and whilst I have profound disagreements with Tony Blair about foreign policy and I'm sure I will have with Gordon Brown, and I mean I think particularly for Gordon Brown who is so clearly identified as a Scottish politician, I mean in a sense maybe more reliant on a good working relationship with me to actually get the government's policies across here in this city.

ANDREW MARR: And is he going to get that? Can you work well with him because he stopped, he blocked the financing that you originally wanted on the London Underground and there was a lot of hot words pouring out on both sides?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I mean the thing about politics is no-one asks anybody to like them. At that sort of level it's a question what, what deal are we doing here? And I mean I suspect no-one, no-one trusts anyone at the top of politics, most of them can't stand each other but you're locked into a system where you've got to deliver something.

And I think the only reason Tony Blair brought me back - he hadn't just decided oh he's a nice person, I mean it was the fact we delivered the congestion charge, we got the buses back on the streets, police were coming and if you've got a record of delivery that's all people ask.

ANDREW MARR: One of the biggest things on your plate obviously at the moment is the Olympics: when it comes to Athens or previous Olympic cities, round the world actually, have had a great deal of difficulty paying off the money afterwards. Is it going to be worth it?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh it is worth it because the, I mean the public sector is putting in about two and a third billion, the total spend around the Olympics is six billion. But the council tax payers here in London will put in about six hundred million pounds.

The International Olympic Committee will give us a grant of most probably seven hundred million pounds or more, more than matching that. There'll be all the money that comes in from sponsorship, there'll be all the economic activity generated. I mean I reckon that for every pound the London taxpayer puts in they're going to get about nine back in terms of improvements to the city, jobs and homes created.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people would say that this country simply can't build big pubic sector projects. We've got the Wembley thing going on at the moment but the list is as long as my arm of public sector projects that have gone vastly over budget, taken too long and there's already talk about being what a year behind on some of these projects out at Stratford?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well and that's why almost all the people running it will not be British. I think that long period in the Eighties and Nineties when we weren't investing we didn't develop the core of people both pubic and private who'd got the skills of managing big projects.

And that's why when I wanted to turn round transport in London I brought in Americans who'd spent those sums of money, delivered big projects and so far we've delivered every project on time and to budget and it's why we've appointed an Australian who successfully built a big chunk of the Australian, the, the Sydney Olympics and that's why we've had to import a lot of people from outside to do it - and we rely on their skills.

ANDREW MARR: Was that why you were so cross with the Ruben brothers?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh the Ruben brothers are a real risk in all this. I, I said earlier that the council tax payer is putting in six hundred million. The game they're playing with the bit of land they control, if it goes wrong and they end up in charge and not one of the other members of the consortium and they don't deliver their side of it - and already they're months behind, I mean they've refused to pay for the work to prepare for the transport works and all of that - we have the power then to step in and do it.

But that would mean that we would bear the cost of that. That'd be six hundred million perhaps as much as seven hundred million. Now if that was borne by the government, it's twenty-five pounds for every taxpayer in Britain and that would not be popular. If it was borne by London it would be two hundred and fifty pounds which is why it's a very bitter row.

ANDREW MARR: There are people in the Jewish community who say there's an atmosphere of anti-Semitism about some of the things you've said.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well, clearly that isn't the case because here in this city over the last year there's been a twenty percent reduction in anti-Semitic incidents. Nationally there's been a big increase, I mean the Chief Rabbi said that across Europe there's a tsunami or racism. London stands out, even with all the great rows we have, as a city in which anti-Semitic incidents are declining - as are all racist and religious incidents.

ANDREW MARR: What do you say to Jewish people who are genuinely a little nervous about some of the things you've said? KEN LIVINGSTONE: I'd say don't believe what you read in, in the Jewish Chronicle or what the Board of Deputies say. The Board of Deputies has been demonising me for twenty-five years because I'm very rude about the Israeli government and their policies. But if you actually look at the polling when I was re-elected as Mayor eighteen months ago Jewish Londoners were more likely to vote for me than non-Jews.

I mean it is a mistake if the Board of Deputies is seen to be saying that I should treat a Jewish reporter any nicer than I treat others. I don't care what race or colour somebody is, I don't care where the Ruben brothers come from or what their religion is, if they threaten the progress of the Olympics it's going to get very unpleasant.

ANDREW MARR: Is it about, robust language in the end? I mean you also got into trouble for calling the American Ambassador a chiselling little thief?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: A chiselling little crook. And that's actually quite an interesting parallel because when we find someone who consistently doesn't pay the congestion charge we usually find the police want them for other things as well, minor crimes in some cases armed robbery, so there is a clear pattern -

ANDREW MARR: ... ambassador ...

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, no but there is a clear pattern of those people who they consistently don't pay their fines and that they're wanted for other ... of the police. But I have to say I do think it's completely and utterly unacceptable that the American Ambassador turns up, I mean having made his billions selling cars, and they stop and they particularly at a time when we're basically the only serious ally America's got and our young people are putting their lives on the line for George Bush's foreign policy every day, it is think stinks that he's weaselling his way out of paying his fair share to London because it means Londoners have to pay more if he's not paying his whack.

ANDREW MARR: I asked you if Blair was going to last and you said probably for a bit as it were, what about the other Blair, Ian Blair, the boss of the Met?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I have to say he is incredibly impressive. I've worked with him now for over five years. I don't have the slightest doubt he'll be completely exonerated when we get the inquiry into the de Menezes shooting and I, I will certainly be saying very strongly that I would like his contract extended because I think it would be, it would make real sense that as the Commissioner who's put in all the preparations for security around the Olympics, he should take that through 'til after the Olympics.

ANDREW MARR: What about your contract with the voters?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I mean at some point people will just get sick of me. You know, I've been around for ever, I mean people complain about Tony Blair I mean I, I, I was prancing around on the GLC stage while he was still at college and I mean when they want you to go they'll let you know, fairly briefly.

ANDREW MARR: You'll keep standing?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I certainly want to seek re-election in 2008 because I've given undertaking that I would deliver the Olympics to the IOC and I love this job. I think other than being prime minister this is the best job in British politics. It's a great world city and yet it's small enough that you can keep in touch it.

ANDREW MARR: Ken Livingstone, thank you very much.



NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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