BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: In Depth: London Mayor  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
London Mayor Friday, 5 May, 2000, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Ken Livingstone: Rebel mayor
Mayor Livingstone making his acceptance speech on Friday
By BBC News Online's Nyta Mann

Ken Livingstone's election as London mayor stands as a remarkable comeback in a political career many of the left-winger's friends and enemies alike believed had run into the sand.

Before he set his sights on becoming mayor, the former Greater London Council leader had come to be seen as a star that failed to shine in Parliament.

Livingstone's reign as GLC leader from 1981 to 1986 coincided with the worst of Labour's wilderness years.

Ken Livingstone
Ken Livingstone in his GLC days
Some of his policies made him a tabloid hate figure; the Sun newspaper once described him as "the most odious man in Britain."

But he has been able to point out that many of the measures he pursued in the 1980s have since become acceptable government policy.

He was in favour of talking to Sinn Fein and the IRA. He was a strong supporter of the recognition of gay rights and measures to address inequality faced by women and ethnic minorities.

His time at the GLC also saw campaigns against its abolition and in favour of its "Fares Fair" policy which pioneered the use of modern advertising techniques in political communication some time before the wider Labour Party discovered their effective use.

All the while, his wit and apparent calm in the face of unrelenting press attack infuriated his political opponents and made him a popular rebel with Labour's rank and file.

Uneasy transition

As GLC leader Mr Livingstone had control of a multi-billion pound budget and real power to wield. After the Conservatives axed the council he crossed the Thames from County Hall to the House of Commons as MP for Brent East in 1987.

The transition saw him reduced to the relative unimportance of an opposition backbencher.

He took his seat at the 1987 general election with baggage many of his fellow Labour MPs took a dim view of. Although a favourite with the party grassroots, he was less well-liked in the Parliamentary Labour Party where his high profile and unerring ability to hit the headlines were mistrusted.

His new colleagues also blamed Mr Livingstone, as one of the municipal socialists the tabloids and Conservatives identified as a key figure of the "loony left", for Labour's failure to effectively challenge the Thatcher governments.

Pro euro, pro PR

Mr Livingstone is undoubtedly associated with Labour's left but not predictably so. He has, for instance, long been in favour of proportional representation for Westminster seats - a view not shared by many left-wingers.

He is also in favour of signing up to the European single currency, and had argued for one-member-one-vote elections within the party some time before it became a key issue for New Labour modernisers.

Long before he made the break with Labour to run for mayor, he was a dissident whose refusal to toe the party line made him a popular figure on the streets of London and beyond, a factor that played a crucial role in voters backing him for London.

Trained as a teacher

Ken Livingstone was born in Streatham, south London, on 17 June 1945. He attended Tulse Hill Comprehensive.

Ken Livingstone
The GLC's "Fares Fair" policy was popular with Londoners
He worked as a cancer research laboratory technician at the Royal Marsden Hospital as his political career developed.

In 1971, while training as a teacher and having joined Labour two years earlier, he was elected to Lambeth borough council and became vice-chairman of housing until 1973.

In 1978 he opted to fight a seat on Camden council and became chair of housing.

Meanwhile, he had also been elected a Greater London Councillor but lost his position as vice-chairman of housing after rebelling against cuts by Labour GLC leader Sir Reg Goodwin in 1975.

Mr Livingstone's first attempt to become an MP failed when he lost in Hampstead at the 1979 general election.

But he took up a position of power in May 1981 when, the day after Labour won a small majority on the GLC, group leader Andrew McIntosh was ousted and Mr Livingstone voted into his place instead.

Rallying point

With Labour in opposition in Parliament, controversies involving the GLC provided a rallying point for party members across the country.

In 1981 the council's "Fares Fair" policy was ruled illegal by the Law Lords.

And innovations such as the giant, constantly updated counter - visible from the Commons - on the roof of County Hall of the latest unemployment figures, infuriated Tory ministers while cheering Labour supporters.

He led the GLC up to its abolition in 1986. Certainly, by that time Labour's leadership viewed him as an unhelpful nuisance. Neil Kinnock detested him. He got on better with John Smith, but Tony Blair's ascendancy in 1994 heralded another downturn in the MP's job prospects.

Ken Livingstone: A remarkable political comeback
His position as a grassroots hero was, however, affirmed in internal party elections.

He was on and off Labour's ruling National Executive Committee in the 1980s, and was re-elected to it with a flourish in 1997 when party members snubbed the leadership by opting for Mr Livingstone against Peter Mandelson, who was also standing.

Hardest decision, biggest gamble

The saga of Labour's attempts to choose a mayoral candidate lasted through 1999 and into the following year, the constant factor being the leadership's determination to halt the Livingstone bandwagon.

When the selection contest formally got under way last autumn he repeatedly insisted he would not break from the party if he lost. Then in February he came second to Frank Dobson in the complex electoral college set up to decide the matter, despite more people having voted for Mr Livingstone.

He kept the political world on tenterhooks for two weeks, "listening to Londoners".

When he finally declared his intention to stand as an independent he said that doing so was the hardest decision of his political life, but added that he had decided to stand because of the "principle of London's right to govern itself".

Backed by opinion polls suggesting he could win the election, the 54-year-old took the biggest gamble of his political life and split with the party he joined more than 30 years earlier.

On 4 May the gamble paid off.

See also:

05 May 00 | Politics
05 May 00 | London Mayor
05 May 00 | Politics
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more London Mayor stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more London Mayor stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |