This is the transcript of an interview I did with Ken Livingstone for the Wimbledon Guardian at the start of his 2012 mayoral election campaign. He was guest of honour at the Mitcham and Morden Labour Party’s campaign lanch. I have also included some highlights of the speech he gave on the night and quotes from the following question and answer session.
On Boris Johnson:
“I have to be honest. If this was an election to be the permanent host of Have I Got News For You, I wouldn’t stand against [Mr Johnson]. But the simple issue is: do you want a laugh or do you want to cut your fares, get the police back on the street and start building some housing again?”
“Sarah Sands accused me in today’s paper of being a tired old alcoholic. My only problem with drink is that I can’t get enough of it!”
On affordable housing:
“Every post war Labour government and Tory government was committed to building good quality homes for rent [...] housing estates were a good place to grow up. We’ve allowed council housing to be demonized, it’s all like Shameless on the telly. That isn’t the council housing I grew up in and we’ve got to start building that again.”
How are you finding the campaign so far?
“Well it’s brilliant. I mean these two polls have finally put me ahead. The only downside to that is it’s all suddenly turned nasty.”
Do you think that kind of tactic is going to work?
“No, it looks panicky. I mean the Tories have gone through the last year ignoring me and now all of a sudden it’s [...] People don’t like that negative campaign. They know the fares are too much and there’s an awful lot of traditional Tory voters living in the suburbs who get clobbered by that.”
Have you got anything in mind for Merton?
“We’re drawing up specific local issues but they won’t be released ’til the real campaign starts. I know Siobhain [McDonagh, Mitcham and Morden MP] mentioned the Wandle. It seems like all the time I’ve been acting in London politics we’ve been talking about improving the Wandle and certainly it starts in Croydon, it crosses so many boundaries and that’s something we need to have a role in to try and drive that forward. There have been improvements but not a lot. The big one down here must be housing.”
We also cover Streatham, where you grew up and started your political career. Have you got anything in mind for there in particular because there’s concern about shops disappearing on the High Road.
“Well this is a London-wide problem that shops are going and they’re either staying shut or they’re being replaced by loan sharks and more off licences more fast food. I mean this is changing the whole nature of places. I was born opposite Streatham police station and that was a really nice respectable row of buildings with good shops, good range, good choice. It really isn’t anymore. I’m gonna try and change the London ban so a borough council can stipulate the mix of shops in a local area.”
You probably heard Siobhain in parliament today bringing up one of our personal issues about our football team AFC Wimbledon. You probably remember when the ground moved to Milton Keynes they took our original nickname ‘the Dons’ and we’re campaigning to bring that back.
“My sister’s kids were all involved in the campaign to say they shouldn’t go and they’ve been involved in the campaign to keep the original site and all of that and over the years whenever I come down to see my sister they tell me about the latest twists and turns with it and you have my total support. Who in their right minds would leave London to go to Milton Keynes? It has no soul, it has no centre.”
We’ve still got the derelict Brown and Root Tower in Colliers Wood after all these years. What would you do as mayor to regenerate the area?
“On a planning issue if I give you an answer I’m precluded from any involvement with it. Mayors can come to any planning decision but not if they’ve given a previous position on it. I can’t talk about any individual planning site or I forefit my right to determine it.”
On a hypothetical level, there’s lots of large unused office blocks in London. Is it one of your targets to convert them into affordable housing?
“There’s large proposals all over London to turn empty office buildings into affordable housing. Well some if it’s very expensive luxury housing actually. But it’s better to have somebody living in something than leave it lying empty.”