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Saturday, 1 July, 2000, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Ken Livingstone quizzed

On Monday former Greater London Council leader Ken Livingstone formally takes up his powers as mayor of London. The man Tony Blair said would be a "disaster" for London will once again be running the capital.

Londoners ignored the prime minister's advice, but will their chosen mayor be able to turn around the city's chronic transport problems, stem the spread of crime and tackle homelessness? Or will his main activity simply be, as New Labour warned, to act as a thorn in the government's side?

In the first webcast from his new headquarters and home of the Greater London Authority, the mayor answered questions from users of BBC News Online.

Click below to watch the forum.

Matthew Haynes:There has been a lull in your presence recently and no policy implementation so far. Is this symptomatic of the office's lack of political power or merely the calm before the storm?

Ken Livingstone: There is a lack of political power. We're not running London. We have a minor influence in policing and job creation. On transport we've got big influence and we will move decisively on that on Monday when I formally take office. Most of the last five or six weeks has been spent interviewing people and setting up basic structures. It will be Christmas before the entire Greater London Authority structures are working. So it is a bit of a lull before the storm, but we are starting with a bang by advertising all the jobs for the senior people running London Transport. Most of them have decided to take early retirement, having made an accurate assesment of their chances of getting their jobs back.

John Hardy: What is your position on the Royals? Do you agree with Mo Mowlam that the Windsors should vacate Buckingham Palace?

Ken Livingstone: No. Because then I would have to move into it or something like that. My broad view on all this is that I am concentrating on what my responsibilities are and if the Queen or the Queen Mother comes to do something in London one of my duties is to be there to receive the Royal Family. Like I say, they are a nice family and you wouldn't mind if your daughter married one.

Mike Watts, London: I was disturbed to see that you not only attended a function in the City of London for the Queen Mother but you were wearing morning dress. Even Gordon Brown refuses to wear formal dress when he visits the City. Is this a sign of your conversion to respectability?

Ken Livingstone: The mayor has to work with the City because forty percent of all jobs in London depend on the City functioning well. And the days thirty or forty years ago when you could have ignored the City and rebuilt the manufacturing base have gone. Equally, the Royal Family is not an issue I particularly want to get involved in. I remain committed to republicanism. But I am not there to insult an institution that the majority of the population still supports. And particularly the Queen Mum, for whom Londoners have particular affection, because when Nazi bombs were raining down on London her family stayed in London and took their risks with everyone else. I know how my own mother felt about the Royal Family because of that.

Alexander Jackson, England: How do you intend to combat the increase in racial attacks that has recently sprung up?

Ken Livingstone: There clearly has got to be a change in policing priorities. The thing that is most amazed me since I became mayor, the fact that I have discovered that has really shocked me, is that the majority of police in London don't even come from the Home Counties, they come from further away than the Home Counties. So our police are people who, perhaps, were born and brought up in Lincoln, or perhaps Exeter and they suddenly find themselves on the streets of Brixton or Brick Lane and that does mean that it takes a long time for the police to come to understand the city they are policing. And what I want to do now is say let's start recruiting police from London, black and white, men and women; people who understand this city.

Gloria Down: Just why do you want to rejoin Labour and why should they have you back? What are the benefits for you and for them and what are the dangers for Labour if they don't take you back?

Ken Livingstone: I am a socialist and for most socialists the Labour Party is still the best vehicle for achieving the policies that you want. I think the Labour Party made a great mistake in rigging the election and expelling me when I would not accept it. But you have also got the problem that I don't want to see the Tories in. William Hague is not going to give me, as a mayor, more powers or more money. When you consider the appalling reactionary line Hague is taking on issues like asylum and so on, I would like to see London a Hague free zone, quite frankly. I think the Labour Party needs to get its act together. There was tremendous demoralisation from the split on the mayor issue and I think they should bring me back into the party so we have a united Labour Party in London in time for the general election. People need a sign that Labour is not going to do something like this again and that there is a place for someone like me in the modern Labour Party. And if they don't get that sign I assume that many of them will still abstain.

J Raju: Are you going to be a left-wing mayor? Can you advance a left agenda, in tune as it is with the majority of London's voters without becoming the alternative power base that the Labour leadership fears so much?

Ken Livingstone: I am going to oppose the government when I think it is wrong. It is wrong on asylum seekers and it is wrong not to take us into the Euro. But the truth is you couldn't run London just from a narrow left wing base and what I have tried to do is create a broad coalition. So progressive Tories, like Steve Norris, have come into my administration on transport. And from the Liberals I have got Susan Kramer. But it is quite clearly different from the kind of broad coalition that Tony Blair is trying to create. My coalition is led firmly from the left of centre. I think Tony Blair's mistake was to position his government at the centre, or if anything slightly right of centre. It won't be revolutionary but slowly bit by bit we will move in the direction I think we should go.

Andy: Some gay people are keen to register their commitment to each other. I believe you are in favour of equality, so how far have you actually advanced plans for a marriage register for same-sex couples?

Ken Livingstone: All the four main candidates supported the right of gay couples to be able to register their relationship. We are going to do this. Clearly nothing like this has been done in Britain before. We are having a big consultation exercise, consulting Londoners on a whole range of policies and when I speak at the Mardi Gras festival in Finsbury Park on Saturday night, I am going to say to people we are going to have this and we want your views on how it should be done, what form of ceremonies you want and how we should conduct the register. We are going ahead with it. It may take six months to sort out but before next year is out gay and lesbian couples will be able to register their relationships with the Mayor of London.

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