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March 28, 2011

Streeting’s U-turn on nasty Ken.

Wes Streeting, former president of the NUS, Labour councillor in the London Borough of Redbridge, and all-round Labour cheerleader, today expressed his delight at the visit of Ken Livingstone.

Whilst Ken managed to maintain stable support in the inner London boroughs in 2008, he was completely deserted by the outer boroughs, of which Redbridge is one. Indeed, in Havering and Redbridge in 2008, Ken got only 46,000 first preference votes to Boris’ 87,000. As such, Ken’s current tour of outer-boroughs is hugely important for his campaign, and local councillors and activists are doing everything they can to publicise the visits and drum up support. In that sense, Streeting is doing everything you’d expect of him. But, I thought to myself, I’m sure I remember him being pretty sick of Ken Livingstone just a few months ago? Sure enough, back in the autumn he tweeted the following:

Where do I start?! Firstly, what an unnecessary insult from Ken Livingstone against the woman he had beaten to Labour’s mayoral candidacy a month earlier. It is a perfect example of his divisive, hostile nature – anyone who ever disagrees with him or challenges him is the enemy who must be insulted or bullied or smeared. As Wes sarcastically alludes to, Ken is a less than nice guy – a point backed up by the results of last week’s ComRes poll which showed that 25% of people think that ‘nasty’ is the word that best describes Ken Livingstone. I find it interesting, too, that Ken’s divisiveness and hostility isn’t just reserved for Boris and his other opponents. He clearly regards all Blairites – of whom many still exist in today’s Labour Party – as his enemies, too.

I was intrigued by Streeting’s reference to ‘this week’ so I’ve just looked up what happened in the days before 23rd October. Of course, on 21st October, Lutfur Rahman was elected mayor of Tower Hamlets. Rahman, you may remember, was expelled by Labour for his alleged links to Islamic extremism, so ran for the Tower Hamlets mayoralty as an independent. Despite being rightly ostracised by his party, he still received the full support of Ken Livingstone. Ken’s support of an independent over the official Labour Party candidate didn’t go down at all well with Labour activists, Streeting included. Actually, as I wrote back in October, Ken’s support for the (alleged) extremist technically breached Labour Party rules, which should – if applying those rules quite literally – have seen him expelled from the party, too.

All of which makes Streeting’s U-turn quite interesting. Back in October, he was furious with Ken for his support of Rahman, he was angry with Ken’s besmirching of Oona King, he was making sarcastic comments about Ken’s niceness (or lack thereof), and wasn’t at all inspired to help him win the 2012 mayoralty. Just five months later, he is effusive in his loyalty and support. I don’t criticse him for the U-turn itself – we all do it from time to time (indeed, somewhere in London, Michael Gove is probably applauding approvingly) and he has little alternative – but I do criticise the Labour Party for selecting Livingstone in the first place. He is a less than pleasant man with less than pleasant friends, and he deserves for his political career to be finished off, once and for all, next spring. Streeting’s old tweet is a timely reminder of how Ken Livingstone is actually regarded by many Labour supporters.

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