Ken Livingstone

Biography of Ken Livingstone

Kenneth Robert Livingstone (born 17 June 1945) is a British Labour Party politician who has twice held the leading political role in London local government, first as the Leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 until the Council was abolished in 1986, and then as the first elected Mayor of London from the creation of the office in 2000 until 2008. He also served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Brent East from 1987 to 2001. A democratic socialist and social liberal, Livingstone has positioned himself on the hard left of the Labour Party.

Born into a working-class family in Lambeth, Livingstone first joined the Labour Party in 1968 and was elected to represent Norwood at the Greater London Council in 1973, before moving to represent Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1977, and then to Paddington in 1981. That year, he was internally elected to the leadership of the GLC. Attempting to push through a reduction in London Underground fares, it was subsequently quashed when it was challenged in court and found to be illegal. More successful was his support for schemes designed to benefit women and various underprivileged minorities, although these too faced stiff opposition. A vocal opponent of the Conservative Party government of Margaret Thatcher, Livingstone was heavily criticised in the mainstream media for his vocal support of controversial issues such as republicanism, LGBT rights and a United Ireland, being given the moniker of "Red Ken" for his socialist beliefs. Viewing the GLC as a political threat and a waste of money, in 1986, the Thatcher government abolished the Council, putting Livingstone out of a job.

After turning to a Parliamentary career, in 1999 Livingstone sought the Labour nomination to be the first elected Mayor of London, although his candidacy was opposed by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Despite losing the Labour candidacy to Frank Dobson, Livingstone contested the 2000 election successfully as an independent candidate regardless, which led to his expulsion from the Labour Party. During his first term, he organised a major upgrade of the London transport system, introducing the London congestion charge and the Oyster card. He later rejoined the Labour Party, and was re-elected in 2004, following which he continued supporting and expanding such policies through the introduction of mandatory bus and cycling lanes. He initiated and oversaw London's winning bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, ushering in a major redevelopment of the city's East End. Livingstone is credited with initiating improvements in energy saving, recycling and enacting other environment and civil rights policies in the city; in 2001, he set up Britain's first register for same-sex couples. His leadership during the 7 July 2005 London bombings was widely praised and brought him international attention. He stood unsuccessfully as the Labour Party candidate in the London mayoral elections of 2008 and 2012, both times losing to Conservative candidate Boris Johnson.

A polarising figure in British politics, Livingstone is the author of two autobiographies, If Voting Changed Anything, They'd Abolish It (1987) and You Can't Say That (2012), as well as the subject of several biographies.

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