Saturday, September 02, 2006

Mouth shoots self

Ken, Ken, Ken. I’ve been a fan of our mayor since I first came to London to live out the classic cliché of struggling musician in a freezing squat with half a roof. I got a temp job at Twentieth Century Fox in Perivale and the two hour each way journey cost more than a quarter of my weekly salary. Good thing there was no rent to pay as food and clothing would have been out of the question. Ken was head of the GLC at the time and introduced ‘Fares Fair’ just in time to save me from a total Orwellian descent at far too tender an age.

You had to admire Ken’s almost Maoist long march back to power. When he stood as an independent for mayor in 2000 I, along with many Londoners who remembered how he’d stood up to Thatcher, believed that job was his by right. If his name hadn’t been on the ballot paper, I would have inserted it myself, possibly in red lipstick.

Here was someone who spoke in words that are actually in the dictionary and was prepared to recognise the priorities of those of us who live here – home, work, play and decent transport between them. I went to the State of London Debate last year where there is such a thing as a free lunch, if a soggy baguette can be expressed so. Half way through his refreshingly rhetoric-free welcoming speech someone heckled, ‘When is the debate going to start Ken?’, ‘when I’ve finished droning on’, he quipped with not a hint of impatience. There was nothing but good will in that room.

Ken is a Londoner who resolutely turns himself out in baggy beige no matter what the occasion; who didn’t feel compelled to marry a QC or learn a musical instrument. A politician who doesn’t make international friends based on the location of their holiday house, which is sort of the problem really. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi - now what was that all about then? The goody bag for the State of London Debate contained a seventy-page glossy colour brochure in defence of the Sheikh’s views. Not good.

Now Ken has lost it completely, going on the attack with Trevor Phillips. It’s a sticky wicket anyway for a white man to accuse a black man of racism. When you’ve got a record of making dodgy remarks about people’s politics in relation to their ethnicity and you start suggesting the famously reasonable head of the Commission for Racial Equality should join the BNP, it’s time to start planning the retirement party.

Trevor Phillips is one of two public figures (the other being Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti), who are capable of maintaining a sane perspective on the future of race relations in this country. They are in the centre of very steep up-side-down bell curve in which the extremities are a belief that any tensions can be dissolved by people simply choosing to live harmoniously and a portent of blood in the streets.

Multi-culturalism is over. You heard it here last week. No one knows what it means and hardly anyone can say it. Government has set a new course. Phillips was reiterating that. Maybe that means he’s a New Labour lapdog; more likely it means that he is a major contributor to that belief. He’s right about the Notting Hill Carnival. It is no more a celebration of multi-culturalism than Morris dancing or caber tossing. That’s not its purpose and it’s completely unfair for the esteem of the whole black community to rest on the outcome of one, London-based event. Imagine what it would have been like if the whole country had been forever judged on London’s damp squib of a Millennium performance.

London is a better place for having had Ken as mayor but no one can stay on top form forever and his time is passing. If anyone’s in any doubt about how well organised the GLA is, I advise taking a (free) trip through the new City Hall. Ken – people in glass houses…..


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