Ken Livingstone: If I had to start again...

The Labour firebrand and former London Mayor on fossils, politics and Margaret Thatcher....

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
If I could go back in time, it would be tempting to be an astrophysicist, a zoologist or a palaeontologist. Even now, when I open a newspaper, the first stories I’ll read are about the latest fossil find, or the latest cosmological analysis. But, in terms of the sheer satisfaction you get from changing people’s lives, I’d be a politician without a moment’s doubt. I would just start it earlier: I didn’t get involved in politics until I was 23. I wish I had gone further in my education and perhaps gone on to study politics, but when I left school, only one child in 20 went to university.

I loved every minute of my early political career. As leader of the Greater London Council in the early eighties, I was right in the eye of the storm. It’s very hard to recapture that if you didn’t live through it, because it was such an intensely ideological time. Twice, the Russians got so upset they moved to the level just below a nuclear strike. But I did get great enjoyment from being the thorn in Margaret Thatcher’s side. Thatcher was a profoundly undemocratic person and was determined to crush all opposition in Britain. At the same time, Labour leadership was completely demoralised and thought she was unbeatable. When I meet her now, she’s just a frail old lady; I don’t want to kick her down the stairs any more.

On all the big issues, I called it right. Of course, there are little things. If I could reach back in time, I would specify that the call centre for the Congestion Charge would be in Croydon rather than Coventry, for example. I don’t tend to agonise too much about the past – where would you start? I don’t really give a damn about my so-called legacy, either. If I drop dead, I drop dead. If I wake up and there’s an afterlife, I’m going to be really quite surprised, and if there’s a God I’m going to be very cross, because I think he’s made a bit of a mess of it down here.

Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London from 2000 to 2008 and is to run for the position again in 2012

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