Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Thursday, 31 January 2008

Profile: Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone
Mr Livingstone hopes to secure his third term as London's mayor

Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London since 2000, has never been afraid of controversy.

Whether it involved infuriating prime ministers by going it alone in London, or upsetting pigeon lovers by declaring war on their occupancy of Trafalgar Square, he has frequently been in the headlines.

The former MP, who in 2002 became a father for the first time at the age of 57, emerged as a public figure in the 1980s as leader of the Greater London Council (GLC).

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

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

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 him campaign 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, he infuriated his political opponents by facing down unrelenting press attacks, making him a popular rebel with Labour's rank and file, and many Londoners.

Early career

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

Ken Livingstone and Neil Kinnock in 1984
Neil Kinnock (right) was not a fan of Ken Livingstone in the 1980s

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.

He opted to fight a seat on Camden Council in 1978, having also been elected a Greater London councillor.

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

But in May 1981, 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.

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

As leader, Mr Livingstone had control of a multi-billion pound budget and real power to wield.

But after the Conservatives axed the council in 1986 and he crossed the Thames from County Hall to the House of Commons as MP for Brent East in 1987, he faced the relative powerlessness of the backbenches.

'Loony left'

By that time Labour's leadership viewed Mr Livingstone as an unhelpful nuisance. Neil Kinnock detested him.

He got on better with Kinnock's successor, John Smith, but Tony Blair's ascendancy in 1994 heralded another downturn in the MP's job prospects.

Ken Livingstone and Frank Dobson in 2000
Ken Livingstone stood against ex-Labour colleague Frank Dobson

Although a favourite with those in the grass-roots of the party, 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, whom the tabloids and the Conservatives considered as a key figure of the "loony left", for Labour's failure to challenge the Thatcher government effectively.

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 won his popularity on the streets of London and beyond.

That undoubtedly came into play when Labour came to choose its candidate to be London mayor.

Independent candidate

The saga lasted through 1999 and into the following year, the constant factor being the leadership's determination to halt the Livingstone bandwagon.

The front page of the Sun in May 2000
The Sun referred to TV's South Park after the 2000 mayoral win

When the selection contest formally began he repeatedly insisted he would not break from the party if he lost.

But when he came second to Frank Dobson in the race, Mr Livingstone - who actually won more votes than his rival and was defeated by a complex electoral college system - decided to split from Labour and stand as an independent.

It was, he said, the hardest decision of his political life, adding that he had decided to stand because of the "principle of London's right to govern itself".

He would be in exile for four years before he was taken under Labour's wing again.

Mr Blair, who had thought Mr Livingstone would be a "disaster" for London, said: "I think I should be big enough to say the prediction I made... has not turned out to be right."

War opponent

As mayor, Mr Livingstone's flagship policy has been introducing the congestion charge, initially for central London, but then extended westwards.

Ken Livingstone leading a protest in 1982
Mr Livingstone's profile rose in London at the start of the 1980s

And he unsuccessfully battled against the government's public-private partnership plans for the Tube, which he is now responsible for running.

But he also took a high profile in opposing the Iraq war, calling George W Bush "the most corrupt American president since Harding in the '20s".

In 2006 he was suspended from office for four weeks for comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard, a move that he described as "anti-democratic" and which was later overruled by a High Court judge.

Mr Livingstone later successfully appealed against the charge that he had brought his office into disrepute.

Ken Livingstone in 2005
The mayor was in Singapore when the 7 July attacks took place

Most recently attention has turned to some of Mr Livingstone's advisers, with one of them - Rosemary Emodi - resigning after the BBC discovered she had lied about taking a free weekend in Nigeria.

Ms Emodi's boss was the mayor's chief race advisor, Lee Jasper, who faced a series of allegations from the Evening Standard about his involvement in the funding of organisations in the black community.

Mr Jasper was cleared of any wrong-doing in an internal inquiry conducted by the mayor's London Development Agency and Mr Livingstone stood by Mr Jasper, saying: "I trust Lee with my life."

Boris Johnson The Boris Story
A look at the colourful life and times of London's new mayor, Boris Johnson.
Gordon Brown Brown's fightback
The PM admits mistakes but says Labour can recover

  Councillors Councils
Party +/- Total +/- Total
CON 257 3155 12 65
LAB -334 2365 -9 18
LD 33 1804 1 12
PC 31 205 -1 0
OTH 10 898 0 0
NOC - - -3 64
159 of 159 councils declared.

Find your results

Results in more detail

London Mayoral results
Overall results
Name Party Votes
Johnson CON 1,168,738
Livingstone LAB 1,028,966
Paddick LD 878,097
Berry GRN 409,101

Find your results

Results in more detail

London Assembly Results
Overall results
Party Constit' Top-up Total seats
CON 8 3 11
LAB 6 2 8
LD 0 3 3
GRN 0 2 2
BNP 0 1 1

Find your results

Results in more detail


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

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific