from the straight and narrow in 1969 when he joined the Labour Party at the tender, impressionable age of23. ‘It was‘, he writes, ‘one of the few recorded instances of a rat climbing aboard a sinking ship.‘ For the past eight years he had been working as a technician in a cancer research lab. He had spent 1968 with rest of the youth of the Free World on the streets. ‘having a great time — marching and protesting.‘ Joyous though the experience had been he was convinced pavement protests were unlikely to change a Western democracy ‘unless the central state machine was on the point of collapse.’
It didn‘t take him long to rise in the moribund local Labour Party and two years later he was on Lambeth Council. In another two he was on the GLC and Vice Chair of the Film Viewing Board, being paid £10 a session to watch films like Snow
White and the Seven Perverts. It was then that he first came to the attention of the Press as a member of the anti-censor lobby and throughout his rise and rise he‘s never been able to shake them off. Local government has been blessed with few characters charismatic as Red Ken, a nickname with Marxist overtones which he now takes as a term ofendearment. Where once wash-houses, crematoria and refuse collections dominated the agenda it has now become the arena for fierce debates on racism, the Irish ‘problem‘, gay and lesbian rights. nuclear-free zones and the regeneration ofthe inner cities. There were bloody battles. not always confined to the acknowledged opposition, and Red Ken took his fair share of the blows. But he has a broad back and a healthy contempt for those in pole position. As everyone who wasn‘t on
the moon at the time knows Mrs Thatcher managed to abolish the GLC, making martyrs ofthe well-marshalled anti-abolitionists. Perhaps. she thought they‘d fade away but Livingstone writes, ‘Mrs Thatcher may come to regret she studied chemistry rather than botany. Even the dimmest gardener knows not to knock the head ofa dandelion in its seed-bearing stage.’ It was time to go. He was due at a Thin‘s bookshop in an hour. Sophie, the photographer, had been snapping away offand on while we talked. ‘Did you get what you wanted?‘ he asked solicitously. She asked ifhe would mind going somewhere nearby where the light would be better to take a couple more shots just to be sure. ‘No problem.‘ He got unsteadily to his feet. His left foot was heavily bandaged and he wore a flip-flop sandal. Earlier I‘d asked what he‘d
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done to it, privately pondering if Labour had shot itself in the foot yet again. The truth was more mundane. He had tried to jump a Californian wave, fallen over and broken a bone. ‘Just like Kinnochio‘. he quipped, unable to resist the joke.
He hobbled round the corner. Upstairs in Demarco‘s Gallery we found four actors from the Giro Theatre Company with their backs to us screaming at a wall where the audience would be. Their play promotes the innocence ofthose jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings. When they turned round they didn‘t seem surprised to see Ken Livingstone. Later going towards Thin‘s I said I'd hoped one ofthem at least would have said, ‘Ken Livingstone, I presume.‘ Now, if I wanted to sneak it in. I‘d have to make it up. ‘Go ahead‘, said Ken obligingly, ‘you won‘t be the first.‘
The List 18 Sept— 1 Oct 11