Ken Livingstone

You’ve won the race to become London’s first directly-elected mayor and your brand of socialism with a cheeky face has earned you a place in British political history books. What the years ahead will determine is whether this is a paragraph or a whole chapter.

You are an unashamed populist; and populist leaders tend to go through a cycle of development that starts off as establishment irritant, graduates to dangerous threat and finally ends as tamed beast.

As leader of the Greater London Council in the 1980s, in the eyes of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, you were both irritating and a threat. You then regressed to just being a thorn in New Labour’s side.

But such is your personal popularity beyond your left-wing power base and such is Tony Blair’s fear of any challenge to his authority that you are back to being a threat again.

Comparison with other populist leaders is instructive. You have 30% of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s radical zeal. You don’t have a higher percentage because even your closest supporters agree that for all your left-wing posturing, your greatest political quality is brazen opportunism. You have successfully exploited Londoners’ ever-growing frustration with the underground system in recent times, for instance, to create clear water between yourself and other politicians.

You have much of the charisma of the larger-than-life Indian leader, Laloo, whose common touch makes him a veritable hero among his followers on the sub continent. Unlike Laloo, you can never be accused of playing at being a total buffoon. Your humor is caustic and sardonic, tightly controlled and often self-deprecating. Many British and US politicians would be more popular if they learnt from your television performances.

Your strongest career model must be Leon Trotsky. It cannot be wise in today’s Britain to reveal this, but he’s bound to come back into fashion. Trotsky is the Russian revolutionary best known for falling out with Stalin and ending his days with an ice-pick lodged in his head. But his influence on revolutionary politics has been profound, not least in unleashing the ‘maximalist’ approach to political demands. This tactic has served you well. You spot a grievance, set impossible demands, and when these are inevitably not met, reap the rewards of further public discontent.

The difference between you and Trotsky is that you’re more likely to end your days having tea at Buckingham Palace for services to entertainment.

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