Interesting debate going on over at LabourList between Darrell Goodliffe and Mark Ferguson on whether or not Ken has damaged the Party and should be disciplined over his support of independent candidate Lutfur Rahman.
The answer is, of course, that Ken has never really been a member of the Labour Party. Oh, he's had a membership card, on and off, but his real loyalty has always been to the Ken Party, a one-man campaigning machine with its own set of ideas. Now, don't get me wrong, Ken is an immensely talented politician and a not at all bad administrator, who has had more comebacks than the various members of Take That. He may even be mayor again. But loyalty has never been his strong suit.
Take this simple idea: most members would agree that campaigning for candidate in another party is a highly disloyal thing to do. In fact standing for another party is an automatic expulsion offence in this party, and always has been. I will leave on one side the fact that the somewhat twisted and unpleasantly race-tinged politics of Tower Hamlets combined with the Party's arcane (and occasionally cheated-on) selection procedures MAY have caused a candidate to be unfairly selected. Or, for that matter, that Ken has made the typical London-leftie mistake of cuddling up to nasty fundamentalist sympathisers like Rahman. The point is simply that, once you have a selection process, you stand behind it and your Party, come what may. Anything else just damages you and it. Or am I just old-fashioned?
But Ken has always played by different rules, and by cleverly pitching himself as David versus the party Goliath, dodges the charge of disloyalty and almost always comes out smelling of roses - as he did masterfully in the original mayoral race which ended up with him running as an independent. We shouldn't be surprised that these things happen - and, in particular, should we be if we really think about the constitutional changes we made only a few years ago.
You see, we're a party who has not quite got used to the decentralisation of power that we ourselves created. In the old days, as a member, you voted for the Leader and Deputy Leader and that was it. This, by the way, is a fact that neither Tony Blair nor John Prescott ever forgot - TB knew he could never sack JP because the members chose him, and you don't take on the membership lightly. So they always stuck close together.
Then, in 1999, it all changed, a fact not lost on a politician as wily as Livingstone. We had a candidate for Mayor directly elected by the membership, and suddenly there was another, albeit smaller, power base in the national Party. Once selected (and particularly once elected), this person would not be reliant on the patronage of the Party Leader, which of course was exactly what happened. Tony Blair was horrified when he realised what had happened, but was powerless to do anything. Ken then spent a modestly successful period as Mayor doing what he does best - i.e., just as he likes.
So, we could feel many emotions as we decide what the hell to do with this brilliant and talented but infuriating and ultimately self-serving man, who delights in making trouble for the leadership...but surprise really shouldn't be one of them.