Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Red Ken gets the blues


Dispatches last night on King Ken which has le tout gauche - and gauche himself - agog, had a distinctly retro feel to it. Viewers were told of the existence of secret marxist cells (oh ok, a few old Socialist Action comrades) in City Hall, of the court of King Ken's parallel foreign policy (Leninspart has full diplomatic relations, including embassies and emissaries in a number of cities apparently) cronyism (those Socialist Action comrades again) political muckrackers on the official payroll (ditto) and some very flamboyant meetings at City Hall involving Ken and tumblers full of strong amber liquid.

All this was delivered in suitably lipsmacking detail and was worthy of those loony left exposes - and indeed the programme featured some old friends, like Mark Wadsworth - which were such a feature of the Thatcherite 80s. Small wonder then, that whatever its criticisms of Ken, much of the left has closed ranks behind him. The ominous word, witchhunt has escaped many leftie lips in the last 24 hours.

But Dispatches wasn't the only thing to have a dated feel to it. Let's be frank, so does Ken's particular brand of identity politics. And let's be franker still, it's these with all their infernal contradictions which have landed him in this mess. Yusuf Al Quaradawi and Peter Tatchell don't make for an obvious fit and sure enough, Tatchell was noticeable for appearing on Dispatches with some mildly spoken but well-aimed criticisms of the mayor.

Only time will tell whether Ken has sustained lasting damage from the programme. But its significance is wider than Ken's immediate political career. Crucually, it also signifies the growing impatience the ciabatta chomping classes and sections of the left itself now feel for the identity politics Livingstone was such an exponent of, the identity politics which feel so frivolous in the colder, harsher post 9-11 world.

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