The Return of Red Ken

'Red' Ken Livingstone, Former London Mayor, on the cover of the New StatesmanKen Livingstone came storming back into the London limelight today, thanks in no small part to a gushing front page from the Evening Standard. The momentous event was Ken launching his Mayoral comeback campaign today – but this was not news, we had long known that he would be up for the scrap in 2012. The real news was that London’s most influential paper (yes, still) had welcomed the Lambeth-born left-winger back into its bosom after two years in the wilderness.

If the front page left us in any doubt as to the Standard’s approbation of Livingstone, then the 1,000-word editorial on page 14, penned by Ken himself, rammed home the point. This highly partisan soap-box rant serves as a wide-reaching manifesto, and includes populist measures, such as cracking down on bankers’ tax breaks and reducing bus fares, although Livingstone does stick by his principles in threatening to raise the 4×4 congestion charge to £25 per day.

The Standard’s reasoning for switching to back Ken can be easily explained. After two years as Mayor, Boris Johnson’s honeymoon has long since finished, and it is widely believed that he will step down instead of run for re-election (with one eye on No 10, no doubt). Furthermore, Labour achieved significant gains in London during the general election, with a swing of nine borough councils to the reds, so the wind is thoroughly in Ken’s favour.

But most interestingly for me, it can be put down to the change in editor at the Standard. Under Veronica Wadley, the Standard was loudly critical of Livingstone before the 2008 Mayoral election, with vicious headlines such as “Suicide bomb backer runs Ken’s campaign.” But it seems that, under the stewardship of Geordie Grieg (as of February 2009), the paper has taken a step back towards the left. Grieg has pinned his colours to the mast  today, and the Standard looks certain to be campaigning for change in City Hall in 2012, just as it did in 2008.

The London Tube strike shows that RMT have lost touch with reality

Tube Strike crowds at Canary Wharf Underground Station (Twitter user @hey_dahl)
Tube Strike crowds at Canary Wharf Underground Station (Twitter user @hey_dahl)

Everyone knows how we British love a good queue, but over the past two days, scenes like this (left) have stretched London’s patience to the limit. I have had the good fortune of being largely unaffected by the Tube strike, but the extent of the disruption is clear to see and woefully avoidable.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, in his usual magnanimous manner, has chimed into the debate today in The Times by arguing that if he were still in charge he would have placated the RMT union and avoided the two-day total strike. However it only takes a glance at the current levels of pay and demands to realise that Bob Crow has lost touch with reality and this strike deserves to be met with harsh sanctions and little sympathy.

Let’s deal in facts for a while:

Tube drivers earn £40,000/year on average, 25% more than nurses for a 35 hours week.

The waiting list to be a Tube driver is over 18 months.

Bob Crow, head of the RMT union, is demanding a 5% pay rise for all drivers and a promise of no compulsory redundancies.

Britain is dealing with a painful recession, bringing with it deflation and job losses.

How on earth can anyone believe that this callous and greedy strike is justified? (We’re back into opinion now, in case you missed that seamless segue.) It seems like a brash solution, but why not just fire the striking drivers and give their jobs to the un-unionised folks on the waiting list? That may be the least left-wing thing I’ve ever said, but in times like these it is simply boorish not to realise how lucky you are. A £40k/year job pushing buttons and sitting down all day is not to be taken for granted. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, brilliantly explodes RMT’s argument in this article for The Times’ Thunderer column.

Perhaps voting out Bob Crow as leader of RMT would have a similarly desirable effect. His popularity is at a predictable ebb, according to this Comment Central poll, but he cannot take all the blame. Every striking driver has to take a long hard look at their reasons for letting down the entire city.

A quick Twitter search shows that one of the main upsides of the Tube strike seems to be that many Londoners have escaped the rat-race tunnels and taken in the delights of over-ground travelling in the capital. I am, by no means, suggesting that London’s businesses and industry could survive without the Tube network, but it is refreshing to be reminded of the joys of walking and boat travel, even if the buses provide a less than desirable alternative.

By 7pm tonight the latest in a seemingly endless series of strikes will be over and business as usual is meant to resume on Friday, just in time for a weekend of maintenance work. Oh, how I love living in the city!