Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ken Livingstone, "You Can't Say That"

Book review

Like him or not (and this blog has always been a supporter), you've got to admit that public figures a-la Ken Livingstone are as rare as hen's teeth, especially in this day and age of spin, staged speeches and blind obedience to the party line.

Just try and count on your fingers the number of current MPs stemming from a genuinelly working-class background rather than academia, research or family fortunes. You may find you'll still have plenty of digits available.

Ok, Ken's autobiography may stretch a bit too long and its tons of details on 1970s local politics may test even the most passionate of political readers.

Still, unless you're prone to believe the rubbish routinely spurted out by the tabloid press, you've got to admire a man who (practically on his own) had the guts to take on both Maggie Thatcher and Tony Blair (as well as their fawning media machines) at the peak of their respective power.

And it's no coincidence that the most insightful chapters consist of the Thatcher government scrapping the Greater London Council elections in 1985, and Tony Blair's control freakery working overtime when votes were rigged in the vain attempt to stop Livingstone from running for London Mayor in 2000.

That is to say, the two dominant figures of post-1979 British politics showing that their mouthing of "freedom" and "democracy" was just that: an exercise in posturing, pomposity and egomania.

But his book is also an inspiring story of someone with the courage of his convictions in a political and media world stuffed with sycophants.

Livingstone must have felt very lonely each time he stuck to his beliefs and everybody reacted by throwing hissy fits and cries of "loonie leftie", "Eastern European tyrant", "pervert" and whatever other trick from the old book of right-wing character assassination.

Yet, ten or twenty years down the line, history proved him right. Quite a number of times.

Like when he was one of the few sticking up for Nelson Mandela while the Great Margaret Thatcher was busy calling him "a terrorist".

Or when the whole country was recoiling in horror at the prospects of sitting down for peace talks with Sinn Fein. Livingstone was physically attacked for pointing out that there was only one way out of the Irish issue. And guess who was proven right...

Or think how every single public figure today (barring a few remaining knuckle draggers) is at pains to portray themselves as "gay friendly". Ken Livingstone was almost literally ripped to pieces and hounded from his house when he was fighting for LGBT rights in the 1980s.

Now aged 66, with the London mayoral election on 3 May 2012, Ken Livingstone will be fighting what may turn out to be the closing battle of his political career.

Or hopefully not, if enough people realise that a millionaire Etonian buffoon acting as London Mayor won't actually do them any good.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Best Moment of 2011

The scandal that brought the most vicious media thugs to their knees.

The notion that nature will eventually run its course, even when it comes to the humbling of the most brutal bullies, came to a belated realisation with the News of the World scandal.

What a picture, to see that particular brand of vicious, foamin-at-the-mouth, self-righteous faux-moralistic fury turning on its own creators.

The succession of the nastiest bullies in the British media tumbling like sacks of rubbish in a garbage truck was just amazing: the arrest of Andy Coulson, the fall of Rebekah Brooks, News Corp withdrawing its BSkyB bid, and finally the News of the World going to the wall, while the two Murdoch thugs pathetically feigned amnesia in the background.

The phone-hacking scandal was just waiting to happen. When somebody's power to bully and intimidate with such impunity is allowed to fester to such poisonous proportions, it's just a matter of time til the putrefying boil bursts.

No doubt soon things will settle and hordes of dimwits are already stuffing their gob with the notion that tabloid thuggery (ie the indiscriminate phone hacking of murdered children, dead soldiers and grieving relatives) is none other than "free press".

But for a moment, just a moment, it was nice to see journalism in the UK back to a version of itself that doesn't resemble a cross between Shaun of the Dead and The Wicker Man.