Ken Livingstone on Mrs Thatcher’s legacy

Ken Livingstone's GLC, reminding Thatcher of the people whose lives she was ruining
Ken Livingstone’s GLC, reminding Thatcher of the people whose lives she was ruining

Ken Livingstone is very far from perfect, but, the Bemolution believes, a kind, principled, decent human being miles apart from Westminster’s current line in nest-feathering sociopaths and soulless drones. He also stands out as one of distressingly few British left-wingers to have actually got something done in power. In the ‘80s, he turned London’s Greater London Council from a gentleman’s club for civic dignitaries into a socialist beacon, weathering tsunami-grade backlash from an insidiously right-wing press, Mrs Thatcher’s government and a gentrified GLC old guard who hated him for opening up their private canteen to the public and letting groups meet for free in County Hall committee rooms. As GLC leader, he was pioneering in his approach to race, gender and sexual orientation, battling to get public recognition for marginalised groups and fight racism, sexism and homophobia. What’s more, his administration strove to protect the poorest, trying to cap rent and cut public transport fares. He must’ve been doing something right, because Thatcher had the Council abolished in 1986, part of a broader move to crush local democracy and make Britain the most centralised country in Europe.


Here, he briskly demolishes the compacted myths that Thatcher’s acolytes have assembled into some great, country-salvaging legacy. Livingstone has always demonstrated a masterful grasp of economics, and here it’s pressed into service to debunk the idea of a Thatcherite economic miracle – short version, she would’ve been sunk if she hadn’t lucked out and entered office just as oil prices boomed and the British government raked in revenue from its possessions in the North Sea. Livingstone isn’t a very exciting writer, but his conclusions are always thumpingly right-on. On Thatcher’s real legacy: ‘[a] slump in investment, and the associated destruction of manufacturing and jobs, is the disastrous economic and social legacy of Thatcherism. Production was replaced by banking. House-building gave way to estate agency. The substitute for decent jobs was welfare. Until there is a break with that legacy there can be no serious rebuilding of Britain’s economy.’

And, as woefully unlikely as it sounds, the direction the next Labour government should take:

‘… Labour will win the next election due to the decline in Tory support, which is even lower under Cameron than Thatcher. But Labour must come to office with an economic policy able to rebuild the British economy – which means a clean break with the economic policies of Thatcher. Labour can build an alliance of the overwhelming majority struggling under austerity: a political coalition to redirect resources towards investment and sustainable prosperity using all the available levers of government.’