The 2008 London mayoral election is the most bitterly fought since the Greater London Authority was set up in 2000, 14 years after the Greater London Council was abolished by Margaret Thatcher.
It is seen by the Tories and their backers as a test-run for winning the next general election, while Livingstone is carrying the burden of dwindling working class support for Labour as it drifts even further to the right under Gordon Brown.
The United for Ken campaign, set up by the Labour Party pressure group Compass, calls this campaign “a battle between the forces of progress versus reaction in the nation as a whole”.
The campaign’s statement, endorsed by trade leaders, Labour MPs and activists, academics and artists, says there has been “no greater threat since Margaret Thatcher shut down London democracy in 1986”.
Since 2000 Livingstone, with relatively limited powers, has achieved more in terms of housing, transport, policing and the environment than any government, local or national, in the past three decades. London is now regarded around the world as a model for running a major city.
His main challenger, tory Boris Johnson, has no actual experience of government apart from being MP for Henley-on-Thames and shadow minister for higher education. His candidacy betrays the lack of experience talent the tories are able to field.Livingstone himself is an ordinary Londoner, but Johnson has few links with the capital and has lived the life of a privileged grandee.
Livingstone was born in Lambeth, educated at Tulse Hill Comprehensive, and became a local councillor in Lambeth in 1971.Johnson was born in New York, educated at the European School in Brussels, Ashdown House, Eton, and Oxford, where he was a leading member of the Bullingdon Club, known for drunken binges and “trashing” restaurants.
He regrets the end of colonialism, is an enthusiastic supporter of George Bush and Iraq war, opposed the Kyoto climate treaty, is against the welfare state, wants the "teaching" of homosexuality in schools to end, and has even attacked chef Jamie Oliver’s campaign for healthier school dinners.
Stark choice for Londoners
He is against the highly popular £25 charge on high-emission ’Chelsea tractors’, and plans to scrap Livingstone’s 50% affordable housing policy, claiming “quotas are not the answer”.
He has a long record of nauseating bigotry, overseeing an editorial saying the the people of Liverpool had a "deeply unattractive psyche" for their reactions to the death of Iraq hostage Kenneth Bigley and the Hillsborough tragedy .
He has written of "orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing" in Papua New Guinea, described "tribal warriors breaking out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief” (Tony Blair), and says the Commonwealth supplies the Queen with “cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies." According to journalist Rod Liddle he refers to black Africans in private as "piccaninnies".
It is hard to put such a history of comments behind you, yet Johnson rebuked people attacking his comments for “going on about this kind of thing” and “trivialising the debate”.
He has attracted powerful support, from the Evening Standard, part of the Daily Mail group, and from media supporters of neocon thinking, some posing as “leftists”.
Londoners face a stark choice in this election. Livingstone, despite his faults, is a true Londoner and seen as a man of the people who travels on public transport. As one elderly muslim resident said in broken english: “He’s the best man, he only demands to help the poorer people”.
Johnson is London’s own George Bush, trying desperately to pose as progressive. He is not up to the task of running London, but if he wins we can be sure he will turn the clock back to the worst times of class privilege and division.
Working class Londoners have seen through the media blitz for Johnson and the lies to undermining Livingstone. But the most crucial task is to mobilise the class to come out and vote on May 1st.