The post immediately below this one is an attempt to explain to a predominantly American audience the phenomenon of Ken Livingstone and why many on the British Left find him exceptionable. Tony Blair's handling of the Livingstone saga was unprincipled from the outset. Livingstone ought to have been expelled from party membership long before the farcical selection procedure that installed the hapless Frank Dobson as mayoral candidate in 2000. Worse still was Blair's cynically welcoming Livingstone back to the party to run under the Labour banner in 2004.
Livingstone has had the extraordinary political luck to be opposed by people who have made grave strategic errors. As I recall in the post below, it was Mrs Thatcher who turned Livingstone into a popular campaigner by allowing him to present his grossly mismanaged administration at the GLC as an expression of local democracy. Livingstone was not even elected as leader of the GLC - or at least not by the voters, but only by a caucus of Labour members of the GLC.
Livingstone's aims were not in the improvement of London's government, however. He expended much energy in targeting and eventually replacing the left-wing Labour MP for Brent East, Reg Freeson. One of my abiding memories of watching the 1987 general election results on television was of Livingstone, early in the evening, hubristically explaining to Sir Robin Day that Labour had sent campaigners out of the constituency in order to tackle neighbouring and more marginal seats. As it turned out, Livingstone nearly lost the seat to the Tory candidate, a heavily pregnant Harriet Crawley (who was unmarried, a circumstance that at that time would have caused controversy among Conservative supporters). Had the Tories attracted more of the 5,000 votes won by the youthful SDP candidate, whose name for the moment escapes me, then Livingstone's political career would have been deservedly killed off then and there.
I attended on Monday the Sky News mayoral debate. I came away hostile to Livingstone and deeply unimpressed by the other candidates. The most dispiriting part of the discussion came in a question on multiculturalism. I've made this point elsewhere, so quote myself:
Mr Livingstone asserts “a responsibility to support the rights of all of London’s diverse communities”. But Londoners are not communities. People belong to groups, but for civic purposes they are citizens who are equals under law. The notion that democratic politics celebrates group identities leads to the absurdity of a left-wing politician literally embracing a leader of theocratic, xenophobic reaction.
On the evidence of the debate, none of the candidates agrees with me. But celebrating London's cosmopolitan character is not the same as entrenching interest groups and religious lobbies in civic life.