KEN LIVINGSTONE: The man who would be mayor, again

PUBLISHED: 14:01 16 April 2009 | UPDATED: 16:06 07 September 2010

He s been out of the job for less than a year, but already Ken Livingstone wants to be mayor again – there s still so much left to do, he tells Katie Davies The Ham&High temporarily hired a new journalist last week. Sitting in Ken Livingstone s family

He's been out of the job for less than a year, but already Ken Livingstone wants to be mayor again - there's still so much left to do, he tells Katie Davies

The Ham&High temporarily hired a new journalist last week. Sitting in Ken Livingstone's family home in Willesden Green, his two young children are entertaining me before he gets back.

I've met Harry the Chameleon and his live-lunch of locusts and maggots, been offered some expertly crafted pink fairy cakes and heard animated accounts of their days at school.

Their drawings hang on the walls alongside holiday snaps of the pair with their mother Emma Beal and their dad.

Only the odd bit of political memorabilia gives away that this is the home of London's former leading man: a Spitting Image style Livingstone mug, a framed cutting from Private Eye and a Vote for Ken poster on the fridge.

That and the pet newts, which gave Livingstone's electoral opponent a nice sound-bite and Livingstone's opponents in the media a quite literal pet name for the then mayor.

But Boris, London or The Evening Standard are not the prime concerns of Ken Living-stone's five-year-old daughter Mia when I ask her what questions I should throw at her dad.

"What is his favourite tree, or his favourite animal?" she shrugs. Yet her flippant remark suggests a promising future as an interviewer, because on his arrival Livingstone isn't rattled by his political adversaries, but the environment.

"The scale of what's coming is going to be catastrophic," Living-stone laments in his languid Lambeth drawl. "If we are lucky we are going to be talking about tens of millions dead; hundreds of millions if we're not. We are heading towards summers that are getting hotter and drier.

"Unless they can get a cooling system in, there will have to be days on end, if not weeks on end, where you have to shut the Tube because if it breaks down, you'll all die. Boris will be one of the people blamed for not doing enough but who cares who we blame? It would be nicer if we could avoid dying."

Livingstone's own environmental achievements in power may not have gone far enough but he is positive they go much further than any that will come from his successor.

"Boris basically, although he's not allowed to say it any more by Cameron, is a climate change denier - he doesn't believe it's man-made," Livingstone says.

"London was at the head of climate change issues liaising with 39 other big cities. We could have generated a lot of good high-skilled, high-paid jobs in this city developing those green technologies. That's all going to be wasted, Boris will make no progress on that."

It seems Livingstone is starting the campaign three years early. He has said he will run against Boris in 2012 and beating him is the only way to get climate change action "back on track".

And despite rumours of Labour wooing Alan Sugar to run for mayor (which Livingstone dismisses: "he doesn't want to stand because he knows he'll go mad. He likes giving orders and that doesn't happen in politics") the debunked politician is confident he can do it.

Many are surprised that Livingstone, beaten by a man commonly dismissed as a "blundering buffoon", wants to get back to City Hall.

With names like Oliver Finegold and Lee Jasper still haunting his political achievements, and at the age of 63, you would have thought he'd had his fill of London's politics.

But, much to the chagrin of his opponents, Livingstone isn't giving up without a fight, or rather another fight.

"Why would anyone not consider running again? It is the most wonderful job," he smiles, starting on the washing up. "I was born and brought up in the city, I know it intimately and I do think it's the most amazing place on earth.

"It's a real combination of people and tolerance, it's a real model of how the world should be. And I'm a workaholic - unlike someone I could mention."

The, non-workaholic former Henley MP and now London mayor has mostly changed "small and petty" things, according to Livingstone. And he has made major errors by above-inflation Tube fare increases and axing jobs at the London Assembly, particularly in the environment department - evidence of his successor's ambivalence to climate change, according to the man who wants his job.

Yet Boris does have a stronger political game-plan than most give him credit for, Livingstone concedes.

"He is clear what his agenda is," he says. "It's to get re-elected in 2012 and then he wants to go back into parliament and succeed David Cameron, who he assumes will then be coming to the end of his second term.

"His ambition is to be Conservative prime minister that's why there is so much tension between Cameron and Johnson, because Johnson wants his job.

"He doesn't seem to have a narrative of where he wants to take London. It's a question of whether he will keep this of mine or get rid of that of mine."

This statement smacks of what many said turned them off the Livingstone regime. The politician often sounds as though he has ownership of the mayoralty, which can come off as arrogant.

Certainly Livingstone, whose career started at Camden Council in 1978, doesn't seem to have any doubts about his talents.

"All the major decisions we took turned out to be the right ones," he says

He blames losing his job on Labour and Gordon Brown: "The Labour vote collapsed to 24 per cent nationally, if it only collapsed to 27 per cent I would have hung on. I didn't have a Portillo moment."

On the barriers to him becoming Prime Minister: "Even if I stood at the next election, Labour lost and I became the Labour leader I'd be 70 at the following election and you'd all be writing that I am too old. I don't think I would be too old but you know what the media's like." And even on being called arrogant, he seems rather self-assured.

"Saying I'm arrogant was a campaign strategy that started three years earlier by the Tories, largely I think that's because our policies all worked so I didn't have to spend all my time apologising," he says.

As well as his own victory at the next London poll, Livingstone believes Labour can still win the next general election under Brown who is giving "a sense of where we are going and what we should be doing."

But he is failing on Livingstone's bugbear and that is something which has to change.

"I absolutely do not think the Government is doing enough on climate change," he says. "When-ever they are faced with the choice of telling people they can't have something like another runway at Heathrow, they always back off. They have great talk but they don't walk the walk. They barely slither.

"They know what needs to be done but they are frightened the voters won't like it. And the truth is, the voters are ready."

But are they ready to turn back to their former mayor to achieve it? Time will tell...

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