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Talking With 'Red Ken' | The Nation

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Talking With 'Red Ken'

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TN:

About the Author

D.D. Guttenplan
D.D. Guttenplan
D.D. Guttenplan, who writes from The Nation's London bureau, is the author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I...
Maria Margaronis
Maria Margaronis
Maria Margaronis writes from The Nation's London bureau. Her work has appeared in many other publications,...

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There was a lot of talk during the [London] mayoral campaign about zero tolerance and about what Rudolph Giuliani had or hadn't been able to do in New York. What do you think can be learned from the experience of American cities in the last ten years?

KL:

It seems to me that mayoral politics in New York over the last twenty-five or thirty years has been about the failure to integrate the black population into the mayor's governing coalition. Koch didn't manage to do it, then you had Dinkins as a reaction, and now Giuliani quite specifically doesn't want to do it. You've permanently excluded a section of the community, and to some degree Giuliani's added the lesbian and gay community to that. Whereas there's actually no chunk of London which I don't want to embrace. The group I could have had the most trouble integrating is the business community, and the polls show [them] having a 20 percent swing in my favor. I think they're just pleased I haven't cut their throats. And zero tolerance is--I mean, it's easy. I could have a dramatic reduction in crime figures if central government would give me the money to go up from 25,500 to 39,000 police, which is what Giuliani's got for a city with the same population.

TN:

Do you want 39,000 police?

KL:

Oh yes. The place where I've felt safest in recent years was Cuba, where, I think more as a job-creation scheme than as a system of state repression, there's a copper wandering along on every street corner wherever you go. You could have a 21-year-old woman walk naked through Havana at midnight and she wouldn't be pestered. When I was a kid in London there was always a policeman coming round the corner. Now you rarely see that.

TN:

You're not a New Labourite, you're not a Third Wayer and yet you're obviously working very closely with businesspeople. How do you see your politics as a leftist relating to the business community and working with them?

KL:

Twenty years ago, when I was head of the GLC, politics was totally politicized. So was the business community. You were heading towards a real revival of the cold war. You had Afghanistan, cruise missiles, Reagan had taken over. Mrs. Thatcher was convinced we were going to have some kind of communist state in London. It was an incredibly tense time. The business leaders just lined up solidly to the right. Now, this entire neoliberal agenda has been shown to be bankrupt. You've had twenty years to let market forces work their wonders, and we've got a collapsing transport system. More crime. Poor schools. The business community's in there now arguing to increase the provision of services. So there's a natural affinity. And I suspect that because for ten years we've not had an ideologically divided world, people now listen to what someone is saying to see whether they agree with it, rather than simply categorizing it. The tragedy of what Clinton hasn't done, and what Blair hasn't done, is trying to define what the left and our future has to be about. It has to be about devolution, decentralization, democratization and greening. And sustainability. This is the agenda of the future for the left. And it is one which could co-opt a substantial proportion of the business community.

TN:

In your newspaper columns you talk about the need to build globalization into the foundations of the city. Most people on the left think of globalization as Starbucks closing down the local coffee shop, multinational companies displacing local----

KL:

I have to say that closing down most of what passed for coffee shops in London--I have no objection to the cappuccino culture. You can get a decent cup of coffee at last. As someone who still considers himself to be a Marxist in terms of how I analyze things and, without any shame, a complete economic determinist, these great economic forces work their way through the world whether you want them to or not. You can't stop them. All you can do as a politician is prepare the people you are responsible for, for them, and try to moderate them or guide them to some degree. Globalization is irreversible. The thing is, how do you make it democratic? How do you make it accountable?

If we're looking at globalization then let's really take on board the dishonesty of the American agenda, which is about preserving its own economic predominance. If you really want complete free trade, then yes. Then all those Third World farmers could sell their food in Europe and Japan and America, and their economies would begin to grow. We don't have free trade--no major power, certainly not America or Japan, is in favor of it.

The left has always got to--what did Lenin do when he came to power in Russia? He didn't try to rebuild feudalism. He actually looked at what was then the most advanced form of capitalism, Fordism, and he imposed it wholesale, as did Stalin after him. If Lenin were alive today he'd be going for the Internet revolution. Lenin always saw what's happening, where's the most advanced economy, what could he copy out of that.

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