Ken Livingstone: mine won’t be a grassroots funded campaign

It was Ken Livingstone’s poor taste joke about Boris Johnson, Hitler and people who don’t vote for him being sent to burn and flayed for all eternity that got the most attention following his interview in Total Politics.*

Taking a look at the printed version of the interview (and forcing my eyes to move past the awful shirt and dreadful trousers) there was one other comment from Ken Livingstone that stood out: “80 per cent of my funding will come from the trade unions”.

Livingstone made the comment in the context of having a go at the sources of Conservative Party funding but it is a striking comment nonetheless, especially given how his campaign has been talking up his plans for a grassroots driven effort.

I suspect that will not be the last time we hear those words, though in the future they will be directed at him rather than uttered by him.

 

* Aside from the poor taste, what also struck me about the joke is that just as both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson have both done on previous occasions, it involved reaching for the Nazis as a frame of reference. It is as if between them they are so bereft of knowledge of the past that all they can do is reach for references you can glean from a watching a couple of episodes of ‘Allo ‘Allo. Have their educations and their lives really been so wasted, and is their ability to weave political stories from words so withered, that all they can do is fall back on the Nazis? Come on the pair of you, I bet you can manage at least one different historical reference next time.

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25 Comments

  • Nazi = national socialist so I wonder if Livingstones education is so bad he doesnt even realise this.

  • Sorry, but I can’t see the problem with 80% of funding coming from trade unions, seeing that the members vote for or against a political fund and that members can also contract out of paying contributions that go towards the Labour party. Would you prefer it it 80% of his funding came from slum landlords and rip-off supermarkets? Would that in some way make him politically neutral?

  • David Boothroyd 28th Aug '11 - 12:28pm

    A campaign funded through the Trade Unions is a grassroots funded campaign. From where do you think the Trade Unions get their money?

  • There are 2 important points here –
    TU members have to go to the trouble to opt out of The Levy.
    A lot of the money Unioins give to Labour is concealed, either as general campaigning that just happens to say the same as Labour, or as services & staff given to Labour free of charge.

  • members can also contract out of paying contributions that go towards the Labour party.

    Fine. Lets cut out the middleman. Ban trade union donations and just wait for people to send their money straight to the Labour Party. Or Ken Livingstone.

  • “Have their educations and their lives really been so wasted, and is their ability to weave political stories from words so withered, that all they can do is fall back on the Nazis? ”

    Chris Huhne comes to mind.

  • Daniel Henry 28th Aug '11 - 4:22pm

    I don’t think that Mark was trying to say that since it’s not grassroots they shouldn’t have it, I think he was simply pointing out that Ken’s previous claim to be running a grassroots campaign didn’t match the funding arrangement.

  • Two things:

    1. When you hear that Ken said, “80% of this” or “62% of that” you need to know that he has just made up the number from thin air. Ken’s speech is littered with facts and figures, most of the former and all of the latter of which he makes up on the spot. Now you know that, it all becomes much clearer.

    2. Yesterday, and indeed the day before, Boris Johnson forgot more history that you will ever know. So your little jibe about Hitler references and ‘Allo ‘Allo! falls wide of the mark.

  • Herbert (28 August 11:53 AM) seems to suggest that Union funding is preferable to that of supermarkets. Why? What do unions contribute to the economy of this country? They overwhelmingly represent public sector workers nowadays, whose salaries comprise tax revenue from the productive sector. All the unions do is: 1. protect jobs that are unaffordable; 2. fight to increase salaries in the unaffordable jobs, and 3. arrange strikes.

    By contrast, Sainsbury’s and Tesco between them paid in excess of £1,000,000,000 in corporation tax to the government in the last year (£187 million and £864 million respectively). In addition, they employed hundreds of thousands of people (in 2007 Tesco alone employed 260,000 in the UK), all of whom pay income tax. Herbert really does need to understand that our economy relies entirely on the profitability and employment of the private sector to pay for schools, hospitals, roads and all the other goodies that he takes for granted. Without the “rip-off supermarkets”, and all those other nasty capitalist enterprises, we would be North Korea or Burma, and if he wants to live in a place like that, I will gladly give him the flight schedules and wish him bon chance.

  • Chas makes some very compelling points.

  • Chas writs, ‘Herbert (28 August 11:53 AM) seems to suggest that Union funding is preferable to that of supermarkets.’ From my point of view it is referable that a ‘Labour’ party should be financed by workers through their trade unions rather than money being paid without their permission in donations by big business. The Labour party was, after all, originally formed by the unions and socialist societies to press the workers’ interests in Parliament. The Liberals, I think, represented the industrialists and the Tories the landed interest. The Lib Dems now seem to represent the interests of the Tories. This seems to be a Lib Dem site. There have been some interesting donors to that party in the past, don’t you think?

  • Sorry, Chas, but why should Unions NOT organise strikes and protect workers’ rights and jobs? Do you really want a total race to the bottom where everyone is on minimum wage and we go back to pre-union working practices? Last time we lived in a country without unions, children died in the pits, there was NO health and safety regulations and no weekends off or paid holidays. We have Unions and their members to thank for most of the workplace norms we now have.

    So, sorry if I am not with you on wanting to have every workplace be a Tesco-type minimum wage, no benefit, no job security-type of employment. Just because your party, with the Tories, now wants to squeeze even more out of people who actually care about safe working practices or decent pay doesn’t mean people will give up without a fight. I’d rather vote for someone like Ken who gets his backing from Union dues paid for by the people than someone like Boris who gets his money from a small elite of bankers and greedy corporate robbers.

    We could happily do without Tesco and their ilk anyway. They have ruined many local and high street shops and with it peoples’ livelihoods. They treat their suppliers, mainly farmers, like crap and waste millions of tonnes of veg a year that does not meet their “appearance standards”. Yes, they may be a bit cheaper but they’ve removed the soul form our country and I would happily pay a bit extra to get that soul, one-on-one type of service back. We didn’t live in a Burma or N. Korea before supermarkets and you know this.

    I’m so sick of profit and shareholder value being all that matters anymore. I’m tired of being nothing more than an “economic production unit”. I am a human being. The Unions are the only thing that now stands between modern working and slowly going back to the Victorian era. If we let them, most companies would indeed go back to horrible working practices. Just look at countries filled with sweatshops: they are usually the countries with little or no Union support and employment laws. So given the choice between trusting a candidate backed by supermarkets and greedy bosses and one backed by Union and worker money, I’d trust the union-backed one any day. Call me old fashioned and a “dinosaur” but I still believe human needs should come before profit. The Tories (and now most LibDems believe the opposite.)

  • Richard Gadsden 28th Aug '11 - 7:31pm

    I do think that criticising Boris Johnson for lack of knowledge of history is rather missing the mark.

    This, after all, is the man who made a reference to Cincinnatus when asked about whether he wanted to be PM.

    He does have a tendency to assume the lack of historical knowledge of his audience and to pander to that, however.

  • Alex Macfie 28th Aug '11 - 8:35pm

    A bit rich for Livingstone to compare Boris to Hitler. Unlike Ken, Boris has never given uncritical hospitality to radical extremists (whereas Red Ken honoured Gerry Adams and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi).

  • ummmm given trade union money is paid optionally by generally low paid workers i’d say that constitutes a grass roots campaign, rather than the conservatives who are funded by a small group of rich individuals

  • The main problems I have with the Unions exerting so much control over Labour are
    1) The Unions have a poor track record when it comes to picking the best Labour Leader.
    2) Unions don’t represent ordinary workers well. Just like big corporations they routinely indulge in the worst kind of fatcattery, and historically they have been incredibly poor at achieving basic rights like equal pay for women. The Union movement lost its way. Labour lost its way.
    That said – I don’t care how much the Unions fund Livingstone because ultimately he does his own thing. Clearly if anyone controlled Ken he’d have to scale back the socialising with terrorists and left wing dictators.

  • Without the “rip-off supermarkets”, and all those other nasty capitalist enterprises, we would be North Korea or Burma, and if he wants to live in a place like that, I will gladly give him the flight schedules and wish him bon chance.
    … and the award for hyperbole of the year goes to Mr Chas. Take away Tesco and Britain would be North Korea. I’m reminded of Tory great John Major’s speech on the essence of England… “long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs”. He must have edited out the bit about the patriotic red white and blue of the Tesco logo marking the crumpling plastic shopping bags wafting tumbleweed-like across the deserted supermarket carparks.

  • As has been pointed out earlier, trade union funding these days comes predominantly from public sector employees who have a massive vested interest in avoiding any sort of control on government spending.

    Labour is a front for sectional interests and this is why it can’t be trusted to run either London or the rest of the country. The problem lies in how to communicate how damaging a return of Ken Livingstone and Labour generally would be for London.

  • @Chas

    To say that the private sector pays for the public sector is economically illiterate.

    Pointing out the tax paid by the private sector and the amount spent on the public sector payroll is bizarre, without stating the tax paid by public sector employees and the amount the private sector pays to its employees.

    “Herbert really does need to understand that our economy relies entirely on the profitability and employment of the private sector to pay for schools, hospitals, roads and all the other goodies that he takes for granted.”

    Chas needs to realise that the private sector relies upon schools to educate their employees, the health service to keep them coming in to work, roads to get them there and other goodies that provide them with useful employees.

    “(in 2007 Tesco alone employed 260,000 in the UK), ”

    How many are employed by the state? What would happen to government coffers without their tax contributions? This is a silly argument of course – it is as silly as yours.

    Chas, the clue to actually understanding how the economy works is value for money. If one sector provides a better value for money than the other then there is a net transfer of wealth from one to the other. If they both provide the same value for money (and contribute as much to growth) then neither sector is ‘paying’ for the other (despite the number of times I hear such economic illiteracy repeated on these web pages).

    Given the performance of the financial services industry over the last decade, then it is the private sector that has provided a very poor value for money and hence money is actually being transferred from the public sector to the private sector (through bailouts and the propping up of the value of privately owned land). It is the public sector that is paying for the private at the moment (profits being privatised and losses being nationalised). You would do well to listen to the speeches of Vince Cable on this subject over the last few years.

  • @chas – on Boris Johnson, the fact he knows so much about history actually makes his apparently ill-informed comments on Hitler worse.

    The problem with unions now is that they don’t properly represent their members. Take Unite, for example. Very militant in local authorities, where the impact of their action can result in the loss of services to the elderly, yet members in Lloyds Banking Group are bound by a “no strike” agreement which Unite (and its predecessor, Amicus) used to make a big, proud noise about?

    Even if members opt out of the political levy, the use of Union offices & officials still comes out of the general fund. Why, through my membership dues, should I indirectly fund an organisation whose policies and values I do not support?

  • Grammar Police 30th Aug '11 - 11:25am

    @ Herbert Many of the unions traditionally supported the Liberal Party (eg miners unions, believe it or not). I should point out that the unions do not belong to the Labour party, they are affiliated to it – and not all of them. You raise the issue of “interesing donors” – well, yes, Mr Brown ultimately turned out to be “interesting” – hindsight benefits us all – but I don’t really see how that relates to the fact that unions are quite happy to take a proportion of their members’ cash to give to a specific political party (in the millions) without anything more than ‘implied’ permission. Make the levy opt in, and allow members to choose which party to donate to – that would seem fair to me.

  • Tom Papworth 3rd Jan '12 - 4:52pm

    @Steve: “To say that the private sector pays for the public sector is economically illiterate.”

    Actually, Steve, to deny that is economically illiterate. All public sector expenditure must ultimately be funded by taxes on the private sector. To talk about “the tax paid by public sector employees” is to fall for a Treasury conjouring trick: public sector worker’s taxes are just recycled money; the government gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

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