From some people you meet in your life, I do not know why, you expect that they will live up to the occasion. I met Ken Livingstone in 1985 or 1986 in Amsterdam, in a rather shabby Russian restaurant, because Conny Braam, his girlfriend at that time, was a friend of my girlfriend. Conny was a deeply involved anti-apartheid activist and became soon afterwards a well-known writer and journalist in Holland.
Mr. Livingstone's Majorship of the Greater London Council (GLC, the forerunner of the actual GLA) was nearing it's sad ending at that moment, as the Thatcher Government was being busy liquidating it. He did not appear very much destabilised by those circumstances. We ate borscht and other Russian delicacies with our ex-Communist female companions, for whom the location had a nostalgic flavour. Alcohol galore.
We talked about city governance and the incomprehensible phenomenon of the split personality of the citizen: he or she may be staunchly conservative when voting for Parliament, reactionary when voting for Europe, and progressive as a citizen of a city, while he may be at the same time an anarchist when it comes to neighbourhood matters...
I did not like the "loony left" issues Ken's government was apparently completely occupied with in those last days of the "red" GLC. Coming from the Dutch city government tradition, where local authorities wield generally much more power than in Britain or France, it was difficult for me to understand, that there was no other way left for the GLC to exploit the Thatcherite repression politically.
But in spite of that, the man struck me as an imperturbable and integer people's representative. His imperturbability came in anew, when Blair tried to keep him away from a second Majorship when the elections for the Labour-reinstated GLA were to be held. Machinations and spin deprived him of the Labour candidacy, but he won as an independent against both Labour and Conservative candidates. His finest hour came, when Blair had to give in, when the next elections were looming and Livingstone was invited to rejoin Labour.
Meanwhile, his successful public transport policy, avoiding most privatisation misery that elsewhere happens, and the toll system on car traffic became signposts for other big European agglomerations.
Sometimes, incidents like when Ken became part of an afterparty brawl or when he accused a journalist of using nazi methods, I started to doubt, if this man lived really up to my expectations.
But now, in the aftermath of the Tube bombings, he says exactly what had to be said. Uniting and not dividing, proudly defending the openness of his city to all who are seeking its liberty, its freedom and its civilised way of living together. What a difference with most comments of Dutch politicians after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November 2004!
Here are Ken Livingstone's words on returning in London, yesterday, from Singapore:
Mayor condemns terrorist attack as cowardly - statement
This was a cowardly attack, which has resulted in injury and loss of life. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been injured, or lost loved ones. I want to thank the emergency services for the way they have responded.
Following the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11th in America we conducted a series of exercises in London in order to be prepared for just such an attack. One of the exercises undertaken by the government, my office and the emergency and security services was based on the possibility of multiple explosions on the transport system during the Friday rush hour. The plan that came out of that exercise is being executed today, with remarkable efficiency and courage, and I praise those staff who are involved.
I'd like to thank Londoners for the calm way in which they have responded to this cowardly attack and echo the advice of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair – do everything possible to assist the police and take the advice of the police about getting home today.
I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a terrorist attack. We did hope in the first few minutes after hearing about the events on the Underground that it might simply be a maintenance tragedy. That was not the case. I have been able to stay in touch through the very excellent communications that were established for the eventuality that I might be out of the city at the time of a terrorist attack and they have worked with remarkable effectiveness. I will be in continual contact until I am back in London.
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. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.
That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith – it is just an 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. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city.
Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.
I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others – that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you 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 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.