Ken Livingstone

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This is a city that you can be yourself as long as you don’t harm anyone else. You can live your life as you chose to do rather than as somebody else tells you to do. It is a city in which you can achieve your potential.

Kenneth Robert Livingstone (born 17 June 1945) is a British politician, who was the last leader of the Greater London Council (GLC) from 1981 to its abolition in 1986, a Labour Member of Parliament for Brent East (1987–2000), and the first elected Mayor of London (2000–2008). He was defeated by Boris Johnson in 2008 and failed to regain the post in 2012.


This city typifies what I believe is the future of the human race and a future where we grow together and we share and we learn from each other.
They come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.
  • You cannot just have a socialist revolution in Norwood and nowhere else.
    • Statement to the South London Press in 1977 on moving constituencies away from Norwood in the 1977 GLC election. Quoted in Citizen Ken (1984) by John Carvel, p. 61
  • There is now a desperate need for a London-wide left caucus of those interested in the GLC and local councils so that we can compare and discuss what is happening in each borough.
    • As quoted in Socialist Organiser, the newspaper of the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (March 1979)
  • I feel a degree of regret that Marshall did not push on and say 'Abolish the GLC', because I think it would be a major saving and would have released massive resources for more productive use.
    • In a GLC debate on the Marshall Report into GLC powers, 1979, quoted in "Beyond Our Ken" (1985) by Andrew Forrester, Stewart Lansley and Robin Pauley, p. 43
  • The H-block protest is part of the struggle to bring about a free, united Ireland. They have my support, and they have the support of the majority of the Labour Party rank and file. I have been consistently in favour of withdrawal from Ireland and to get away from the idea that it is some sort of campaign against terrorism. It is in fact the last colonial war.
    • Evening Standard (21 July 1981)
  • I can't think of a more appalling contrast between this wedding beanfeast and what is happening in Ireland.
    • Referring to the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, in Daily Mail (29 July 1981).
  • Everyone is bisexual. Almost everyone has the sexual potential for anything.
    • Speech to Harrow Gay Unity Group (18 August 1981)
  • Nobody supports what happened last Saturday in London. But what about stopping it happening? As long as we are in Ireland, people will be letting off bombs in London. I can see that we are a colonial power holding down a colony. For the rest of the time violence will recur again and again as long as we are in Ireland. People in Northern Ireland see themselves as subject peoples. If they were just criminals or psychopaths they could be crushed. But they have a motive force which they think is good.
    • Referring to the IRA's Chelsea Barracks bomb of 10 October 1981, in a speech to the Cambridge University Tory Reform Group (12 October 1981), quoted in The Times (13 October 1981).
  • He asked to see me again. I think he wants me for my body.
    • Remarks to the press after meeting Secretary of State for Transport Norman Fowler (18 June 1981), quoted in Citizen Ken (1984) by John Carvel, p. 107.
  • The next election will bring an influx of over 120 new MPs who will be overwhelmingly on the Left.
    • The Guardian (23 September 1985)
  • There are other people whose fear is if you bring down South Africa there will be a communist regime takeover - and that's a risk I'm prepared to see. I would much rather see South Africa under a communist regime than under the present one if that's the choice I'm faced with.
  • I take a much more pragmatic view than many people on the Left about working with Neil Kinnock. Kinnock represents the best vehicle possible for achieving socialism now.
    • Ham and High (21 February, 1986)
  • Nothing could have been greater than the pride of serving this city. I do not believe — I am sure I speak for my colleagues on all sides — nothing else that happens to us in our lives will be as rewarding and fulfilling as the years that we have spent in this building.
    • Speech at the last meeting of the Greater London Council (27 March 1986); quoted in "GLC : The Inside Story" (1999) by Wes Whitehouse, p. 174.
  • What a squalid and irresponsible little profession it is. Nothing prepares you for how bad Fleet Street really is until it craps on you from a great height.
  • The British judiciary is one of the most corrupt in the world because of politically active judges.
    • The Daily Telegraph (17 May, 1986)
  • If Voting Changed Anything They'd Abolish It
    • Title of his autobiography (1987)
      • A variant of a slightly earlier quote: "If voting could change anything, it would be illegal" (1978)
  • I'm not in favour of the army, I'm in favour of replacing it with armed workers' brigades to defend the factories.
    • Quoted in Conservative Party Election Broadcast, 19 May 1987
  • I urge everybody to stay inside the Labour Party and fight to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. There must now be a serious question over whether Frank can hope to beat Steven Norris on May 4 when Londoners will widely perceive the Labour nomination to have been stolen. The lesson of Wales is that our voters will not be taken for granted. A Labour campaign that was dead in the water from day one will limp on to polling day and never allow us to get on to the real issues that matter to Londoners, such as transport, unemployment and crime. In the interests of uniting the Labour party, I hope Frank Dobson will consider his position over the next few days. He must decide whether he is willing to accept this tainted result or stand down in the interests of Labour and London. Over the last six months Londoners have had to listen to politicians. Now it is time for politicians to listen to Londoners, and I shall be saying nothing further until I have had a chance to listen to Londoners.
    • Statement following the London Labour Party ballot for a Mayoral candidate, in which Livingstone was defeated by Frank Dobson due to the electoral system chosen by the party, as quoted in "Winner is challenged to refuse `tainted' victory" in The Guardian (21 February 2000), p. 2.
  • The IMF and World Bank are still appalling, and now the World Trade Organisation too. All over the world people die unnecessarily because of the international financial system. Every year the international financial system kills more people than World War II. But at least Hitler was mad.
  • As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted 14 years ago...
    • Victory speech on being elected first Mayor of London, 14 years after the abolition of the Greater London Council, of which he was leader. Friday 5 May 2000
  • George Bush is just about everything that is repellent in politics... You have got this super-patriotic hawk who was a coward when his country was actually involved in a war and has the most venal and corrupt administration since President Harding in the 20s. He is not a legitimate president... This really is a completely unsupportable government and I look forward to it being overthrown as much as I looked forward to Saddam Hussein being overthrown.
    • Remarks at a public meeting criticising George W. Bush (8 May 2003) , as quoted in "Mayor's Amazing Attack on Bush" by Ross Lydall in the Evening Standard (8 May 2003)
  • Some US journalist came up to me and said: 'How can you say this about President Bush?' Well, I think what I said then was quite mild. I actually think that Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen. The policies he is initiating will doom us to extinction.
    • As quoted in "Livingstone says Bush is 'greatest threat to life on planet'" by Nigel Morris, in The Independent (18 November 2003), p. 5.
  • The American agenda is sweeping everything before it, and although it's not perfect, the EU is better on environmental issues. It's a less rapacious form of capitalism.
    • As quoted in "Livingstone says Bush is `greatest threat to life on planet'" by Nigel Morris, in The Independent (18 November 2003), p. 5.
  • I just long for the day I wake up and find that the Saudi royal family are swinging from lampposts and that they've got a proper government that represents the people of Saudi Arabia.
    • As quoted in "New Labour, new Ken? Think again as Mayor speaks" by Joe Murphy in Evening Standard (8 April 2004), p. 19.
    • Interview with The Guardian (7 April 2004)
  • When you see someone trying to manoeuvre it round the school gates you have to think, you are a complete idiot.
    • Criticising Londoners who drive 4x4s in an interview with GMTV (broadcast 23 May 2004), as quoted in "Drivers of 4X4s in London are idiots, says Livingstone" by Ross Lydall in Evening Standard (21 May 2004)
  • Oliver Finegold: Mr Livingstone, Evening Standard. How did it ...
    Ken Livingstone: Oh, how awful for you.
    Finegold: How did tonight go?
    Livingstone: Have you thought of having treatment?
    Finegold: How did tonight go?
    Livingstone: Have you thought of having treatment?
    Finegold: Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?
    Livingstone: What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?
    Finegold: No, I'm Jewish. I wasn't a German war criminal.
    Livingstone: Ah … right.
    Finegold: I'm actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?
    Livingstone: Well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard. You're just doing it 'cause you're paid to, aren't you?
    Finegold: Great. I've you on record for that. So how did tonight go?
    Livingstone: It's nothing to do with you because your paper is a load of scumbags.
    Finegold: "How did tonight go?"
    Livingstone: It's reactionary bigots ...
    Finegold: I'm a journalist. I'm doing my job.
    Livingstone: … and who supported fascism.
    Finegold: I'm only asking for a simple comment. I'm only asking for a comment.
    Livingstone: Well, work for a paper that isn't ...
    Finegold: I'm only asking for a comment.
    Livingstone: … that had a record of supporting fascism.
    Finegold: You've accused me ...
    • Exchange with Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold (8 February 2005). These remarks led to an official investigation into Livingstone's conduct. Transcript from Guardian Unlimited
  • When reporters say to me I'm only doing this because it's my job... that's the same abdication of moral responsibility at the thin end of the wedge that in its most extreme and horrific version ends up with others being prepared to stand as a concentration camp guard.
    • "Livingstone isolated after refusal to back down in Nazi jibe row" by Hugh Muir in The Guardian (16 February 2005), p. 2.
  • Racism is a uniquely reactionary ideology, used to justify the greatest crimes in history — the slave trade, the extermination of all original inhabitants of the Caribbean, the elimination of every native inhabitant of Tasmania, apartheid. The Holocaust was the ultimate, "industrialised" expression of racist barbarity.
    Racism serves as the cutting edge of the most reactionary movements. An ideology that starts by declaring one human being inferior to another is the slope whose end is at Auschwitz. That is why I detest racism.
  • To avoid manufactured misunderstandings, the policies of Israeli governments are not analogous to Nazism. They do not aim at the systematic extermination of the Palestinian people, in the way Nazism sought the annihilation of the Jews.
    • Commentary in The Guardian (4 March 2005)
  • Today the Israeli government continues seizures of Palestinian land for settlements, military incursions into surrounding countries and denial of the right of Palestinians expelled by terror to return. Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, is a war criminal who should be in prison, not in office. Israel's own Kahan commission found that Sharon shared responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila massacres.
    • Commentary in The Guardian (4 March 2005)
  • All racist and anti-semitic attacks must be stamped out. However, the reality is that the great bulk of racist attacks in Europe today are on black people, Asians and Muslims — and they are the primary targets of the extreme right. For 20 years Israeli governments have attempted to portray anyone who forcefully criticises the policies of Israel as anti-semitic. The truth is the opposite: the same universal human values that recognise the Holocaust as the greatest racist crime of the 20th century require condemnation of the policies of successive Israeli governments — not on the absurd grounds that they are Nazi or equivalent to the Holocaust, but because ethnic cleansing, discrimination and terror are immoral.
    They are also fuelling anger and violence across the world. For a mayor of London not to speak out against such injustice would not only be wrong — but would also ignore the threat it poses to the security of all Londoners.
    • Commentary in The Guardian (4 March 2005)
  • You can't expect to work for the Daily Mail group and have the rest of society treat with you respect as a useful member of society, because you are not.
  • Perhaps if they're not happy here they can go back to Iran and try their luck with ayatollahs, if they don't like the planning regime or my approach.
    • Remarks at press conference, 21 March 2006, criticising the businessmen David and Simon Reuben who were obstructing land acquisition for the 2012 Olympics. The Reuben brothers were in fact born in India, to parents of an Iraqi Jewish heritage. Quoted in "Gaffe lands Livingstone back in trouble" by Jill Sherman in The Times (22 March 2006)
  • It would actually be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay the charge that everybody else is paying and not actually try and skive out of it like some chiselling little crook.
  • One thing that Chairman Mao did was to end the appalling foot binding of women. That alone justifies the Mao Tse-tung era.
    • As quoted in "Now Livingstone is standing up for Mao's mass murder" by Jane Merrick in Daily Mail (19 May 2006), p. 48.
  • To take such generous contracts and screw them up so dramatically must suggest that these are the most probably the worst business people ever assembled in one place to run anything. … the civil servants were taken to the cleaners and on the face of it you still end up with a £750 million overspend based on your mismanagement of them. I think they should be sacked, hung drawn and quartered, thrown out of the country and the whole thing (the London Underground) returned to public ownership. I saw that they (Metronet management) wanted to talk to the Mayor about this — wasting their breath sunshine! — they can go out and raise the money amongst their shareholders who came here to get their snout in the trough — they screwed it up; they are not getting any of our money!
    • Remarks made regarding the management of Metronet and the PPP of the London Underground during a Mayor's press conference (13 March 2007)
  • I think Londoners find it bizarre that ten weeks after the allegations in the Evening Standard, you haven't questioned Lee [Jasper]. All these questions about Lee — he can come down from his office now and answer them, and you sanctimonious hypocrites are dragging this out so the lies can carry on in the Standard, you're not talking about Lee coming here 'till March. Bring him here today. Ask him your questions. Let Londoners see the answers. You're dragging this out for electoral purposes. Sanctimonious hypocrites, every one of you.
    • Remarks at the London Assembly meeting, criticising the Assembly's approach to allegations against Mayoral adviser Lee Jasper (13 February 2008)
  • I am not in favour of any parental choice in education. You will go to your local school.

Response to London bombings (7 July 2005)[edit]

  • I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners — black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old — indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for caste, for religion or whatever.
    That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith, it is just indiscriminate attempt at mass murder — and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other.
  • Finally, I wish to speak, through you, directly to those who came to London today to take life. I know that you personally do not fear to give your own life in exchange for taking others — that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you do fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society, and I can show you why you will fail. In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations, and even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.
    They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our cities where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.

Press conference (8 July 2005)[edit]

  • In this city 300 languages are spoken and the people that speak them live side by side in harmony.
    This city typifies what I believe is the future of the human race and a future where we grow together and we share and we learn from each other.
  • I want finally to thank Londoners for their solidarity. There are some places in the world where such an incident would have unleashed internal strife and physical violence. London has stood together, we haven’t had any problems of the sort you might see in other parts of the world and I think it says everything about what is right about this city.
  • If you go back a couple of hundred years to when the European cities really started to grow and peasants left the land to seek their future in the cities there was a saying that “city air makes you free” and the people who have come to London all races, creeds and colours have come for that. This is a city that you can be yourself as long as you don’t harm anyone else. You can live your life as you chose to do rather than as somebody else tells you to do. It is a city in which you can achieve your potential. That, I think, is our strength and that is what the bombers seek to destroy. They fear that freedom, they fear a world in which the individual makes their own life choices and their own moral value judgements and that is what they seek to snuff out. But they will fail.

Quotes about Livingstone[edit]

He has every right to his own view but not to express it when he is mayor of this city. ~ Steven Norris
  • When the Labour Herald printed a foully anti-semitic cartoon Mr Kenneth Livingstone, boss of the GLC, not only defended its publication, but said that the only thing he regretted about it was that it did not go far enough.
    • Bernard Levin, after the GLC allowed a Soviet propaganda exhibition to be held at the Royal Festival Hall in London in February 1983, as quoted in The Times.
  • He has every right to his own view but not to express it when he is mayor of this city.
  • First of all, I've never heard of the fellow. Second, I'm not going to dignify it with a response.
    • Ari Fleischer, White House Press Secretary, in response to questions about Livingstone's comments of May 8th 2003 about the Bush administration.
  • Ken is the man that we all need
    Ken is the leader of the GLC!
  • Livingstone apparently is that very odd and increasingly rare creature called a sincere liberal.


  • [Pigeons are] rats with wings.
    • Although Ken Livingstone has used this phrase on many occasions (including at the Greater London Authority 'People's Question Time' on 24 October 2000: see Hugh Muir, "Ken vows no surrender in tube funding battle", Evening Standard, October 25, 2000, p. 6), the phrase is not original. The screenplay for Stardust Memories, a 1980 film written and directed by Woody Allen, includes the following:

      Sandy Bates: What was that? What was that?
      Dorrie: Hey, that's so pretty. A pigeon!
      Sandy Bates: Geez … no, it's not pretty at all. They're... they're... they're rats with wings.

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