Originally Published in independent.co.uk
Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, launched a stinging attack on President George Bush last night, denouncing him as the “greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably ever seen”.
His provocatively timed comments, on the eve of Mr Bush’s arrival in London tonight, threaten to create severe embarrassment for the Prime Minister. They also come with talks under way on whether to re-admit Mr Livingstone to the Labour Party before his five-year exile ends.
Although he made his many differences with the Government on a range of issues clear, he reserved his strongest comments for the American President in an interview with The Ecologist magazine.
The President’s three-night trip, which will culminate on Friday with a visit to the Prime Minister’s Sedgefield constituency, has sparked a flood of protests from those opposed to his foreign policy. But Mr Livingstone’s outburst makes him one of the most high-profile and explicit of his critics.
Mr Livingstone recalled a visit at Easter to California, where he was denounced for an attack he had made on what he called “the most corrupt and racist American administration in over 80 years”. He said: “Some US journalist came up to me and said: ‘How can you say this about President Bush?’ Well, I think what I said then was quite mild. I actually think that Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably ever seen. The policies he is initiating will doom us to extinction.”
Mr Livingstone, who is holding a “peace party” for anti-war groups in City Hall tomorrow, added: “I don’t formally recognise George Bush because he was not officially elected. So we are organising an alternative reception for everybody who is not George Bush.”
He said he supported stronger links between European Union countries only because he wanted to see a powerful bloc emerge to rival the United States. “The American agenda is sweeping everything before it, and although it’s not perfect, the EU is better on environmental issues. It’s a less rapacious form of capitalism.”
The Mayor said he had viewed Labour’s 1997 election manifesto as a “load of old guff they’d come out with because they didn’t want to upset the Daily Mail” that would rapidly be ditched. “I was amazed when it transpired that Blair had been serious,” he said.
Accusing Mr Blair of suffering from a “background problem”, he said: “There is nothing in his past that was radicalising. He wasn’t interested in all the great student activities, the radical campaigns.
“He did not get involved in politics until the 1970s, when the high point was passed. So you have someone of the summer of ’68 generation who actually wasn’t part of it.”
On GM foods, he said: “If the Government ignores public opinion, then civil disobedience on this issue is legitimate, as long as it’s not violent.
“But the most important thing that affects a government is not peaceful protest, but fear of the ballot box.
The Mayor’s comments will infuriate Downing Street at a time when No 10 is examining ways of bringing Mr Livingstone, who was expelled from the Labour Party for standing as an independent in the London mayoral elections of 2000, back into the fold.
AS THE PRESIDENT PREPARES TO VISIT SEDGEFIELD, TONY BLAIR’S CONSTITUENCY, WILL HE BE WELCOME?
Chris Lloyd, political editor of The Northern Echo: “The paper is Bush neutral and he has a right to visit but equally, the people here have a right to demonstrate. I hope he gets to see all, or at least some of those protests and I hope Mr Blair will explain what they are about because that’s what friends are for. Despite Mr Bush’s unpopularity, there is a frisson of excitement because nothing of this magnitude has ever happened there.”
Lucy Hovvels, vice-chairwoman of Sedgefield constituency and Labour councillor in Trimdon: “I’ve had local people asking where they can get Union Jacks and American flags because they think it’s an exciting and historic visit. I really believe Bush will get a warm welcome in Trimdon and the mood is one of excitement. We have the two most important people in the world coming to us – no one would otherwise know where Trimdon is.”
Richard Wanless, co-ordinator of the ‘Sedgefield Against War’ protest: “The visit is a massive security risk and for those living in the area, it jeopardises our safety. No matter where he goes, there will be protests from London to the North-east to make sure he knows he is not welcome. To me, he is a war criminal that has illegal occupation of Iraq. To add to the insult, there are families here who lost their children to the war.”
The Rev Martin King, rector of Sedgefield: “A lot of people here are very angry with the way the US administration is putting itself above the law. One person in my congregation said if President Bush wanted to look around the church, he would be welcome because it is a place for sinners, but he hoped his henchmen would leave their ironware at the door. His policies are very unwelcome in the region – I have not heard anyone voicing support for him.”
Martin Callanan, Conservative MEP for Sedgefield: “The visit is hugely beneficial for the area. Most of the security threat to the people in Sedgefield will be represented by left-wing demonstrators. And how would we feel if our Prime Minister, whatever his political party, was treated similarly in another part of the world? It was Blair’s decision to send our troops to Iraq, so those who are anti-war should not take it out on Bush.”
Martin McTague, former chairman of the North-east Regional Federation of Small Businesses: “It will put Sedgefield on the map and benefit the image of the North-east. Our business community is often viewed as a backwater and this will redress some of the old stereotypes. Because this is Blair’s constituency, a security risk is always there. The fact that Bush will be with him increases that risk but it is a notional increase.”