The Mayor of London has denied that he abused his powers to launch a campaign against the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Ken Livingstone also defended grants from the London Development Agency to organisations that subsequently ceased operating without leaving proper accounts.
He admitted that City Hall staff had undertaken a campaign to stop Trevor Phillips being appointed to the EHRC, but claimed that they had done so on their own time.
Mr Livingstone said the campaign was in opposition to views Mr Phillips expressed while head of the Commission for Racial Equality about the failure of multi-culturalism.
“I have a duty to promote good race relations and community relations in London and I took the view that the direction that Trevor Phillips was taking at the CRE was not just wrong but damaging and we launched a campaign to try and stop it,” he said.
His opponents in May’s mayoral elections accused him of abusing his position.
The campaign against Mr Phillips came to light in a Channel 4 documentary broadcast on Monday, which also alleged that the Mayor drank whisky while on duty.
Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:
“Never mind the whisky, Ken Livingstone is clearly drunk on power.
“No matter how long someone has been in the job, they’re not above accountability.
“More and more money is being raised by the Mayor; Londoners have a right to know where it is being spent and whether they are getting value for money.”
Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat candidate, said:
“Mayor Livingstone effectively said this morning that he is entitled to act like a dictator because the law allows him to.
“He has abused his position and the powers he has to smear individuals and pursue his own personal agenda and he makes no apology for having done so.
“As Mayor, all my advisers will be selected by open competition and subjected to approval by a committee made up of democratically elected Assembly Members.
“I will work with the London Assembly to ensure the Mayor is effectively held to account on a day-to-day basis.”
Questioned about the extensive powers of the Mayor and the perceived lack of accountability, Mr Livingstone said that when the post was established in 2000 it was meant to be a directly elected executive.
“If we didn’t have that, I couldn’t have got the congestion charge through a traditional council system, we couldn’t have sustained the increase in the budget for policing.”
He said if London voters were unhappy they could choose another Mayor at the election.
With regard to London Development Agency grants, which were also featured in the Channel 4 documentary, he denied any wrongdoing on the part of his adviser on race, Lee Jasper.
“Many of those organisations we fund will fail and they will continue to do so.
“But the allegation that there is some network of corruption and money has gone to Lee Jasper’s business associates … he has no financial interests in any of these organisations or any business link with any of the people involved in them.”