BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Last Updated: Sunday, 24 February 2008, 11:27 GMT
Mayor's war on gas guzzlers
On Sunday 24 February Andrew Marr interviewed Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London

Ken Livingstone confirms he wants to price polluting vehicles off the roads.

Ken Livingstone Jeff Overs/BBC
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London

ANDREW MARR: It's been a stormy few weeks in London politics it could be said, with the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone under attack from newspapers and his Tory challenger Boris Johnson for running his administration like a personal fiefdom.

This week the car company Porsche has been threatening legal action against the champion of public transport over his plans to increase the congestion charge to 25 for the most polluting cars.

Is there a message there for the rest of Britain?

He's also received flak over his personal race advisor, now suspended, Lee Jasper.

And another race advisor who was forced to quit after lying about a foreign trip. Ken Livingstone is with me, good morning, thank you very much indeed for coming in. Let's, I suppose, let's start with some of the issues around your advisors of the administration.

You lost one because she'd lied about a foreign trip. Lee Jasper's status at the moment I don't quite understand because you were going, you asked the police to investigate and they said, actually no.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No they didn't say no. They said we're not actually investigating Lee at the moment. Now I've had the Evening Standard and my Tory opponents say there's this tide of corruption. So I, Lee came to me and said "I can't do my job like this". So I agreed to suspend him, it was his request, and then asked anyone who's got any evidence to submit it to the police. And immediately the Evening Standard said "oh we never said it was corruption, we just said misconduct".

Well misconduct is a criminal offence in public office, it actually carries a life, a maximum prison sentence of life imprisonment, so it's very serious. So we've written to the police saying these are all the allegations that have been made, now are you going to investigate Lee or not? And if they come back and say there's nothing then he'll come back to work. But we've never had a circumstance like this where there's been eleven weeks of accusations without any actual hard evidence.

ANDREW MARR: So he's suspended for the time being, and meanwhile there's this thing Operation Black Vote, which all the parties pay for so it's a kind of cross-party organisation. But Lee Jasper is arguing that it's important to get black voters out to vote for Ken Livingstone, it's beginning to sound like a Ken Livingstone organisation.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No. I mean Operation Black Vote's been running for long before there was a mayoral system, all the parties sign up to it. All the candidates tend to an event for them to encourage, I mean, one person in five in London, it's not just black people underrepresented, one person in five in London is actually not registered to vote who should be able to. But he's got his own right to personal opinion of course. I'd be very surprised if Lee wasn't voting for me.

ANDREW MARR: He's saying Organisation Black Vote should organise for you.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think that's a misunderstanding because they can't. I suspect they're a registered charity and they can't take that political position. I wouldn't necessarily believe what I'd read in the papers at the present time.

ANDREW MARR: Can I sort of move on from some of the specifics to what might be more difficult for you, which is a general perception that after eight years, if I can put it brutally, you've become a bit big for your boots, that you've become a little arrogant, that you've got this group of people around you, and because you have almost sort of unique personal power for a British politician it's just been too long?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well, I mean that's the line my opponents are running. It doesn't show up on our opinion poll ratings where, I mean, I've been consistently about, my satisfaction rating's about 20% ahead of my, I mean the dissatisfaction rating quite unusual for a politician after eight years in office. I mean this is the sort of thing you expect opponents to say because my opponents don't want to discuss the issues.

They don't want to discuss what are we doing to reduce carbon emissions? Why is crime falling and no-one's reporting it? Hey, what are you doing about public transport? Those are the real issues - are you going to have affordable housing? They'd much rather say well Livingstone's too old, or the latest thing that I'm a confirmed alcoholic, sadly I'm not, I haven't had a drink since I got in this morning.

ANDREW MARR: (laughter)

KEN LIVINGSTONE: It is a very dirty campaign...

ANDREW MARR: That's not surprising, it's a lively and very personal contest. I mean you yourself argued right at, you know, when this job was set up, that eight years I think would be enough. You can't spend more than eight years in the Kremlin, you can't spend more than eight years in the White House, but you can spend 12 years or however long it will be.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think what changed. I mean, I've always been ambivalent about whether you should have term limits in power or not. I think the decisive thing that changed my mind was the fact that Bill Clinton couldn't seek a third term, and the American people would have elected him, and we ended up with George Bush.

Now I've come to the conclusion that at the end of the day people alone must be allowed to decide who they want. Clearly if the Russians were free to do that and they weren't stuck with this constitution dating back to Yeltsin's time, Putin would win a landslide for a third term and it wouldn't be a rigged vote, he clearly is the person that the Russian people want.

ANDREW MARR: That suggests that you could go on and on and on so long as you keep winning elections.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: That's the whole basis of democracy, I think.

ANDREW MARR: But is there any part of you that accepts the argument that, you know, you have an extraordinary amount of personal power and eventually, I'm not saying it corrupts in the old-fashioned backhander sense, but there is a sort of personal corruption that happens inevitably when you've got that amount of power.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, I don't think there is actually. Politics attract some corrupt people. I don't, I've never noticed anybody who came into politics as a pure and innocent individual and then went back. There's a lot of corrupt people attracted politics because there's money to be made there. I think people look at my track record over 25 years in London, and in the focus of the public eye in London, I'm still pretty much the same sort of person, just a little bit less hair and a little bit more round the midriff than I was when I was first elected in 1981 as leader of the GLC.

What all this is about, I mean, the Standard campaign, all the stuff about I'm too old, all the personality, is to avoid the debate on politics and we really haven't had that. I mean we've got a huge debate about the government's given the office of mayor enough money to buy, to build 50,000 affordable homes. I want to make certain those are homes available for rent for people on low incomes. Boris is saying we mustn't get involved in rows with the borough councils so boroughs that say we don't want homes for ...

ANDREW MARR: But you are going to change the way London looks dramatically, if your plans go ahead. I mean there are going to be very large numbers of very, very tall buildings, and quite quickly?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, no there aren't going to be very large numbers of tall buildings. Broadly I think in the last seven years perhaps, five or six have been agreed. I wouldn't expect that to change, I, the one just around the corner from where you live, Ealing Broadway, I mean I saw last week and we broadly made it quite clear to the borough council this wouldn't be acceptable.

ANDREW MARR: What about transport? A lot of coverage about your proposed 25 tax, congestion charge on "Chelsea Tractors" as they're called, but these big 4x4 Porsches. Porsche says this is unfair on them. Do you, would you like to see those kind of cars actually sort of taxed of the road across Britain?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh, absolutely. I mean we're not saying people shouldn't drive. I mean driving is very liberating. What we're just asking people, drive the least polluting car that suits your personal circumstances. And Porsche are in this position where they make only one car that is not heavily polluting.

So if we could just persuade everybody in Britain to stick to the same sort of car you like but have the least powerful engine, you'd cut carbon emissions by a third. And I mean Porsche are going for us because clearly it sends a big signal not just to the motor industry but to ordinary people thinking "what car shall I buy next". The way things are going here and around the rest of, California's following similar policies. You need to buy a car that doesn't bang out vast amounts of carbon.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. So the important thing so far as you're concerned, as a politician, is to take on big companies, car companies, to change people's habits. It is worth doing across Britain?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think it's worth doing. This sends a sign to the car companies "you need to start producing less polluting vehicles".

But the money we get in from this will give out at least thirty perhaps as much as 50 million a year, is then going to pay for this ten-year programme of a massive expansion of cycle ways throughout London, easier for pedestrians to get about. And if you actually factor in that it will mean, I mean something like half a million tonnes less carbon a year.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. You said, as I recall, that Fidel Castro's revolution was one of the great moments of the 20th century, now he's standing down. But he has presided over a homophobic, pretty repressive regime, which has kept a lot of people poor.


ANDREW MARR: And you can't only blame America for that.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, well you can actually blame them for an illegal economic blockade for 50 years. I mean, you go, the first time I went to Cuba in the mid-Eighties they admitted they'd made a mistake with their homophobia, and they had changed those laws. All I'd say is this, of course in 50 years in power Fidel Castro has made many mistakes.

But add up the mistakes of the ten presidents of America over that same period of time. I think he comes out, I mean it's sad he never was going to be a democrat, he was a communist, he remains a communist. But that's about the only place you can go in Latin America where everybody's got education, everybody's literate. And people have got a level of healthcare almost as good as here.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. You said earlier on it was dirty fight. It's certainly a close fight if the polls are to be reckoned with. You had some easy victories before. You're absolutely up against it now with Boris Johnson. That's good for London and it's good for politics and it's good for you too, isn't it?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh yes, I mean, I, when Boris announced his standing so many people around said, "oh what a joke". I mean no one pay any attention and it's going to be an easy victory. But you see, this isn't really a world of ideology any more, sadly, this is a world of celebrity.

And Boris has this great winning way with his sense of humour, "oh I've made a terrible mistake" ruffle the hair "cripes", and everyone has a good old chuckle. What we've got to get off Boris is that the actual politics in the years when he could write what he believed in The Telegraph he was in favour of Section 28, the anti-homosexual measures.

He opposed the Kyoto Treaty, he supported the privatisation of the railways and he opposed the minimum wage. Now he's re-packaged himself as sort of Ken-like, I mean, with a bit more hair. But we want to go on to the debate.

ANDREW MARR: We're not entirely against celebrity culture on the show I have to tell you. You're going to join us again at the end of the programme, but for now thank you very much indeed.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

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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