jamiebowen0306 (jamiebowen0306) wrote,

I finished "You Can't Say That," by Ken Livingstone

This book is a combination book. It's a biography of Ken Livingstone's life, coupled with a look at local politics in London and national politics in the Labour party. It really wasn't a bad read.

The book itself is divided into thirds. The first third follows his life till he becomes leader of the GLC. The second third follows his time as leader, an MP and his election as mayor of London. The final third watches (mostly) that period of his life.

The story telling itself wasn't bad. It dragged in places (mostly when describing some of the internecine wars that were undertaken while running the GLC 30 years ago), but overall the stories he tells weren't bad.

Back in the 1980s Livingstone was presented in the press as everything short of a "rabid Trotskyite" who wanted to recast London as Leningrad-on-Thames. The way he treated some members of his party was shabby, but time (and this book) have proved that he wasn't anywhere near as crazed as he was presented at the time.

Was he left-wing? Yes. Does he believe in state ownership? Yes. Would he have shifted the Labour party to the left if he could have done? Most certainly. However, he could better be described described as a left-wing pragmatist. There were certain equal-rights issues he believed in (gay rights, for example) which he wouldn't back down on (much to the chagrin of his detractors), but most of the time he had a good sense of what was achievable in his environment, and headed in that direction.

His sense of what was achievable with people, however, wasn't extended to the press of members of his national party, who he unerringly managed to rub up the wrong way. Some of the book examines his relationship with the press and Labour Party. Was he shabbily treated by them? Absolutely. Did the press try to do him down? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. But, lest we forget, it takes two to tango. If he managed his relationships with them better, he might have got more from like likes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

In short, this is a decent book. There's something in it for those who remember "Red Ken" and those who knew the more modern man he became. My biggest problem with with the book is will readers care about both aspects of his personality?
Tags: book, book review, review

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