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Big blues for ’New Labour’

Friday 9 May 2008, by Paul Kirkness

Is ’New Labour’ a thing from the past?

The excentric Boris Johnson was elected mayor of London on the 4th of May with a significant majority. The man is at best a jester... As Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Johnson was quiet - breaking the silence only in order to make provocative remarks about Islam, homosexuality and even the ’collective mentality’ of people in Papua New Guinea ("cannibals" and "chief killers").

I was very sorry to hear about Ken Livingston’s defeat in London, a man who has drastically changed his city - most of it for the best. London is almost free of traffic following the imposition of a congestion charge (although the M25, the motorway that surrounds the city, is still the biggest parking lot in the world). Often referred to as ’Red Ken’ for his left-wing beliefs, he was nonetheless mayor of a town that with the most millionaires in the world. On the other hand, poverty in London is rampant. Areas like Hackney or Stockwell (where the Brazilian electrician, Jean-Charles de Menezes was killed by police officers) have some of the lowest life expectancies in the UK. If Brixton is now attracting the citie’s yuppies, racial segregation is not yet a thing of the past. Finally, the public transport system is really quite pathetic. It is one of the most expensive in the world yet its privatisation has had terrible consequences with lines like the Northern Line being down for for repairs so much of the time.

Livingstone - the man - is, of course, not free of criticism of course - he has been accused of calling a Jewish journalist from the Evening Standard a "German war criminal" and a "concentration camp guard"; he has been examined after charges of corruption were brought against him and he has made strong comments about British foreign policy that were not exactly diplomatic... Ken Livingstone was an active mayor however. He was a man of seeming conviction when it came to making his town a cleaner one. Will Boris Johnson keep up the some of the good work?

It is unlikely. Johnson is frankly a bit of a dubious character. Even Conservative journalists like Simon Heffer have referred to him as an "act" and not a politician. Supported by the British National Party as second choice for the mayoral elections, there is no doubt in my mind that his racist comments about Islam (in particular about getting "18th century on Islam’s medieval ass") have made him attractive to Britain’s far-right.

This election is important for London but also for the UK. Johnson became mayor only three days after local elections that saw the worst defeat of Labour in over 40 years... The economic situation is of course partially responsible for the downfall of ’New’ Labour. It is also likely however that British voters do not recognise the Labour government since the departure of Tony Blair - Gordon Brown is uncharismatic, he has done little since assuming office... In my mind, Gordon Brown is possibly a large part of the problem but it is still unlikely that his departure would change the fact that ’New’ Labour is no longer new at all.


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