Ken Livingstone: The End of Road
11 February 2008
Our contributor, Gerry Fitzpatirck, provides a personal memoir of the evolution of Red Ken and the betrayal of the Black, Irish and socialist activists who battled against the ‘Met’ – the corrupt London police force now defended by the former ‘Red Ken’
Some years ago in the early 1970s - it seems a very long time indeed now - a new police chief was appointed head of London’s Metropolitan Police. This was Sir Robert Mack and the job he was appointed to do was to clean up the Met after its links with organised crime had been exposed. A left wing cartoon at the time portrayed him as a dustman collecting the ill-gotten gains in a small barrow. Mack’s ‘clean up’ operation was mostly for public consumption; very few police officers were prosecuted. Most were allowed to leave the force on full pensions and to keep their spoils through a ‘lack of evidence’. The political payoff for the police was an agreement that they would get the power and equipment they needed to deal with the political and industrial unrest.
‘I’m not racist but….’
This new political generosity produced the Special Patrol Group and its role in policing political and industrial disputes. It is also produced the story of the ‘SUS’ laws (if an officer suspected that an individual was about to commit a crime he could make an arrest on that basis) which helped the police dealing out more ‘heavy manners’ to the Black Community.
Not much explanation was needed to justify ‘heavy manners’ for the black community, for the simple reason that public discourse on the subject of the black community was completely dominated by the ‘concerned citizen’ - the self appointed ‘I’m not racist but….’ bigot, who wanted to punish black people for changing London and for producing more black people. They wanted especially to collectively punish black young people, for being proud of who they were and for being politically aware (most of that generations fathers and mothers had come to England with genuine love for the country, only to be sadly disappointed at the reception they received).
Only there was a problem, those who had been marked out for victim-hood did not respond as they were expected to. First, in reaction to the huge increase in the amount of police arrests and brutalisation of young black people under the SUS laws, a new radical militant sub culture was born involving both black and white working class people. Part of this sub culture was the setting up of ‘law centres’ to help black and working class people with the new aggressive policing. This produced people like Lee Jasper, a brilliant south London based lawyer who destroyed many a police case that should never have been brought to court. He was part of the political culture of the time that supported broadly Trotskyist politics. This milieu ultimately produced Ken Livingstone who cut his political teeth also in working class South London in bitter fights with the police and the traditional time servers in his own party.
Banning The Carnival
In the summer of 1976 all these aspects came together with the campaign to have London’s Noting Hill Carnival banned. Leading the fight against the Carnival were Tory residents of Kensington and Chelsea. Their very large petition was publicly endorsed by the local police commander. The police however did not support an outright ban for two reasons; first, being that it would have been extremely difficult to contain the subsequent angry demonstrations against the ban; second, they did not wish to loose the opportunity to practice their new methods of crowd control. The method of control they did opt for was a form of strangulation. This writer witnessesed the effects of that strangulation as practised on the Children’s Carnival before the main event where the children’s steel bands - alone on the virtually empty streets - were tightly enveloped by police cordons. The top of each one of these police cordons there was gap for a police inspector with a clipboard announcing and pointing out where the children should be going.
It is now a matter of history what happened
when these tactics were practiced on the main carnival. Out of the ashes
of that year Ken Livingstone was able to build and maintain an original
political alliance between black and Irish voters (his campaign for peace
talks with SF was extremely effective with Irish electors who until that
point had not been a radical force in Labour Party Politics). Another of
his movement’s achievements was to give some support to the black communities’
insistence that the police, when using the SUS laws - were out of control.
The SUS laws were eventually scraped after a number of high profile cases
were thrown out, such as the Mangrove case were all the members of a community
café were collectively charged effectively with conspiracy. A large
number of these cases were won by Lee Jasper with important follow up campaigning
by black labour politician Bernie Grant. Grant Like many of Livingstone’s
London supporters successfully carried on their campaigns as Labour MPs
after the GLC and the other labour controlled metropolitan boroughs were
abolished by the Tories in 1986.
When out of power Livingstone never lost the opportunity to remind his critics that it was his policy to talk peace with Sinn Fein. He also reminded the Irish community that he opposed the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the anti Irish hysteria that caused miscarriages of justice. Letting the Irish of London know they had a champion in Ken Livingstone was, and remains, a decisive part of Ken’s political strategy. And it proved successful in returning Livingstone to power as London mayor in 2000 when he stood as an Independent against the Labour Party candidate. He repeated that success in 2004, though he was then back within the party.
The Return of SUS
For a period of ten years beginning in late 1990s armed police units were involved in number of ‘extra judicial’ killings in British cities. In each case the police revived the ‘SUS’ defence. Two of these were simply SAS style assassinations of unarmed republicans. One was of a recently released prisoner (not a republican) shot and killed by police in 1998 while sitting in a car. The most notorious being the Hackney shooting, also in 1998, where a man – Harry Stanley - was shot dead on suspicion of being Irish and armed (he was in fact Scottish and the ‘gun’ was a chair leg in a plastic bag). After a very long fight the Stanley’s family got the coroners ‘open’ verdict overturned and ‘unlawful killing’ was entered as the cause of death. Two police officers were charged, yet later released due to ‘insufficient evidence’. Other cases of shoot to kill were a schizophrenic in Liverpool who was shot dead by police for wielding a sword and the infamous Bennet case where a black man was shot dead in Brixton for holding (then dropping) a lighter shaped like a gun. Lee Jasper, in his official capacity as senior policy adviser on policing to Livingstone, said in 2000 of the Bennett case, ‘Given the explosion of black gun crime within the black community our message to people is that if you are carrying a toy gun as a fashion accessory then that is a very dangerous thing to do.’ And actually shooting and killing someone on suspicion they were armed is also a very dangerous thing to do.
There were two factors driving these killings. First was the deployment prior to 9/11 of RUC special branch ‘shot-to-kill’ tactics and two, the new prejudice and impunity that accompanied the new ‘war on terror’ on London’s streets, where someone could be killed on suspicion of being a Muslim terrorist. That is what happened in the summer of 2005 when Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, who was suspected of being a suicide bomber, was killed by armed police. Much was made of the fact that he had to be surprised and could not be alerted to what was happening to him. This was later shown to be part of the police’s media management strategy after the event as was shown later when it was leaked that Mr Menezes was actually being held by another member of the police unit while he was being shot.
Since the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes his family like the Stanley family have fought for justice and even went further and sued the police on the grounds that police ‘suspicion’ of who Jean Charles de Menezes was – was not cause enough for the police to publicly execute him. They eventually won that case. Not among their supporters was the mayor of London Ken Livingstone who instead insisted on backing Ian Blair, the now beleaguered metropolitan police commissioner.
Part of Ken Livingstone’s appeal was that
he survived the many attempts to defeat and ‘abolish’ him. In the end the
only person who succeeded in defeating and abolishing Ken Livingstone was
Ken Livingstone himself.