“The lead attack dog is of course the Daily Mail group's Evening Standard. It is being used day in and day out as a battering ram, not just against Ken Livingstone, but against the ideals of more democratic, egalitarian and sustainable politics. It is indeed the few using their wealth and influence over the many.” - Unite for Ken
The 2008 mayoral election in London is taking place in a very different atmosphere from those in 2000 and 2004. Livingstone has been targeted by a witch-hunt of McCarthyite proportions, and attacked from the right and the left.
The incessant corruption allegations against Livingstone’s race advisor Lee Jasper have undoubtedly affected Livingstone’s standing in the opinion polls, even if only temporarily.
Livingstone is the best-known politician in Britain to have opposed the Iraq and Afghan wars, and has become a target for British neocons supporting the ‘war on terror’. Boris Johnson's campaign is being run by Lynton Crosby, election manager for successive victories by Australia’s arch-warmonger and Washington stooge John Howard.
The Standard’s neo-con attack dogs
The Evening Standard is openly leading the anti-Livingstone bandwagon, which includes two apparently ‘left-wing’ journalists who have adopted right-wing neocon ideas - Martin Bright of the New Statesman and Observer columnist Nick Cohen.
Bright has warned that “a vote for Livingstone is a vote for a bully and a coward who is not worthy to lead this great city of ours". His pamphlet for the centre-right Policy Exchange think-tank attacking dialogue with the Muslim Council of Britain was praised by US neocon Richard Perle. He describes the Chávez government in Venezuela as linked to “Iran and cocaine-smuggling guerrillas".
Nick Cohen, after drinking with leading neocon Paul Wolfowitz in Annabel’s nightclub, described him as "a politician committed to extending human freedom."
He claims Livingstone is running London with a “secret Marxist cell” of “grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left” (ex-members of Socialist Action), and says Livingstone’s engagement with representatives of mainstream political Islam is appeasing the “Islamist far right”.
Insidious campaign tactics
Johnson and his influential backers are also using insidious campaign tactics to label anyone backing Livingstone as his “stooges”.
At a debate organised by the Evening Standard - without Livingstone’s presence - Michael Eboda, editor of black newspaper the New Nation, said Johnson’s racist comments in the past were "an extremely big obstacle to being able to work with what is almost 12 per cent of London's population."
But Observer journalist Nick Cohen warned Eboda, to "be careful" not to take Mr Livingstone's side as he had his own a history of "revolting" comments.
Eboda said he was “not on Livingstone's side, not in any way, shape or form."
But the main focus of the media onslaught has been on unproven allegations of financial impropriety against Lee Jasper, London’s leading black political figure.
Jasper has been cleared of any wrongdoing by both Scotland Yard and an independent audit. But that didn’t stop the Standard from devoting 10 front pages and 36 full-page articles to the allegations.
There have been only two arrests linked to the alleagations, in two out of the dozens of community groups receiving London Development Authority grants. Neither one was linked with Jasper.
“A spiteful and racist media campaign”
In the end it was revelations about his private life, and scores of reporters camping outside his home, which led him to resign in March.
According to Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote, “the Standard wanted a scalp” and the pressure on him and his family became intolerable”.
Woolley, writing in The Voice, says Jasper has been the victim of a “spiteful and racist media campaign” which had subjected black organisations were to “shockingly disproportionate” levels of scrutiny.
“Right now our best defence is solidarity. We need to tell Jasper that we care and a wretched media that we will not be defeated,” he said.
Livingstone has also described the Standard’s allegations as a “racist smear campaign".
The intensity and nastiness of the campaign against Livingstone reflects powerful interests - big business and London’s wealthy elite - who are backing the Tory party and have no concern for policies which have benefited ordinary Londoners. But most working class Londoners know better than to believe the torrent of drivel flooding the media, and they know that their interests are best served by Livingstone.
Stop the BNP in London!
There is a very real danger of the British National Party winning one of the eleven proportionally elected seats on the Greater London Assembly by crossing the 5 per cent vote threshold on May 1st.
In 2004 the BNP fell just 5,000 votes short in with 4.8 per cent of the vote. Since then the BNP has emerged as a significant force in outer east London, with almost 8,000 votes in Barking and Dagenham in the 2005 general election.
In last year’s local elections the BNP’s share of the vote fell in many parts of the country, but as leading anti-fascist group Searchlight points out, despite the BNP’s recent internal splits the party “often does well despite itself”.
There is also the UKIP factor. In 2004 UKIP took 8.2 per cent of the vote in London, but since then has virtually collapsed in the capital. Many of its votes are likely to go to the Tories or the BNP.
Both UKIP and the BNP have done well on the outskirts of London rather than inner London, taking the white right-wing vote.The BNP needs just over 8 per cent to win two assembly seats, and 11 per cent to win three seats.
Searchlight’s Hope not Hate campaign is having its biggest mobilisation in London so far for the May 1 election. The anti-fascists’ most important weapon is boosting turnout and mobilising voters.
A large proportion of London voters from all ethnic backgrounds are strongly against the BNP. According to polls by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation the BNP is Britain's most disliked political party, with three-quarters saying they would never vote for it under any circumstances.
The factors which have helped the BNP gain support in recent years have not gone away, and most of the wards it is targeting are held by Labour, which is losing support in its old working class strongholds.
As part of the BBC’s White Season series on white working class alienation, Newsnight recently interviewed BNP leader Nick Griffin.
So the fight to stop the BNP in London is far from easy and there is much work to be done. The main groups mobilising the anti-fascist vote in the capital are Unite Against Fascism, which is chaired by London mayor Ken Livingstone, and the Hope not Hate campaign.