Current Affairs

INTERVIEW: Ken answers his gay critics

Tony Grew April 18, 2008
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There has been much discussion in the dead tree press about the importance of the “pink” vote in the election for Mayor of London.

The Daily Mail, for example, took time to report that Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem candidate and only out gay in the race for City Hall, may be taking votes away from long-standing gay rights supporter and incumbent Mayor Ken Livingstone.

“A poll by website PinkNews (sic) showed that although Mr Livingstone won the most first-preference votes, the Lib-Dem – and openly gay – candidate overtook him with the crucial second-preference vote,” the paper reported this week.

During the campaign, has been lucky enough to speak to many of the candidates: Lindsey German from Respect – The Left List, UKIP’s Gerard Batten, Mr Paddick and Tory Boris Johnson have all so far submitted themselves for questioning.

The incumbent Mayor has been harder to track down, which is unsurprising considering most of the election has been about him and his administration’s actions over the past eight years.

Earlier this week Ken Livingstone took a trip round Soho to meet-and-greet gay voters, and managed to catch up with him.

We wanted to put some of the questions gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans Londoners want answered. You’ve taken a bit of a battering in this campaign on several gay issues, lets deal with them one by one. al-Qaradawi.

Do you regret hosting this homophobic Islamic figure at City Hall?

Ken Livingstone: You’ve got a simple choice in the Muslim world.

You’ve got two main strands: there’s the Wahabi strand backed by the Saudi Royal family, viciously intolerant, and you’ve got al-Qaradawi, who speaks to hundreds of millions Muslims who are looking outwards to engage with the world.

Now you’re not going to get him on the next gay Pride march, but you won’t be getting the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury there either. The question between these two strands, which is the one that you want to engage with?

When Pope John XXIII became Pope, he started looking outward, before that the church had been very intolerant and inward-looking.

He started turning the Catholic Church outward to engage with Protestants and Jews.

We didn’t say “he’s not very good on gay rights”, we were just delighted that someone was starting to engage with the modern world.

After al-Qaradawi others will emerge.

But there’s still a homophobic Muslim community, even the modern part of the religion.

There’s only one thing that the Grand Patriarch, the Chief Rabbi and the Grand Mufti of Moscow agree on and that is that perverts shouldn’t be allowed to march on the streets. I mean, I’m not aware of a good religion on this issue.

You mentioned Moscow, you’ve been invited to attend Moscow Pride this year – are you going to?

I’m not going to get there, May 17th, I think we may be rebuilding the administration so there’s no way I’m going there.

We’ll send a nice message of support but the election’s on the 1st, results on the 2nd then you’ve got bank holiday, we’ll be recasting our administration.

There’s a huge timing issue. If I come back into office on 5th May, the next three weeks will be intense, new organisations, new contracts and you become the new housing authority for London, skills authority for London …

Let me try the question from a different angle, you say timing is preventing you from attending this year. Would you be willing to attend an event that’s been banned by the Mayor of Moscow?

Of course, when I go to Moscow I support lesbian and gay rights. When the Mayor of Moscow comes here, he has to sit there while myself and Mayors of Paris and Berlin all support lesbian and gay rights.

There’s been some concerns Peter Tatchell has raised over the London Gay and Lesbian Museum.

We will fund it. The real problem has been the lesbian and gay community getting its act together about sites and who will help with funding.

It’s a huge project, you are talking closer to the hundreds of millions than to tens of millions; it’s not like putting together a Pride march, you’ve got to buy land, a building, it’s big money.

There’s also been concern about the gay football World Cup, which is coming to London this Autumn. It is alleged you are refusing to fund it or even to support its funding appeal to the Lottery.

We are supporting it. I’m not saying we can fund all of it. No one has yet sent me a letter saying how much they’re asking for. How much are they looking for?

My understanding is that is less than £10,000 – the organisers told me that 90% of the budget is in place.

If it is under £10,000, that looks very manageable. Until you said that, I didn’t know if it would be ten thousand or ten million.

Peter Tatchell has been quite active in this campaign. What’s your view of Peter?

I love Peter, if Peter thinks I’m not funding something I should be then he should write to me about it.

And the Islamophobe thing, you were pretty hard on him a few years ago?

He was pretty hard on me. This is politics. I don’t spend my life worrying about what happened several years ago, you get on with what’s happening now.

Presumably Peter will vote for Sian Berry and his second preference is me.

I’m not upset with that, I’m delighted with that, I’d be very upset if I didn’t have Peter’s support.

Have you thought about what you’re going to do if you lose?

No. I haven’t give any thought to losing. You’re in this to win it and two weeks and a day to go.

If you win in May that term will end before London hosts the 2012 Olympics, how do you feel about that?

“There’s no role for the mayor in 2012 Olympics, perhaps only a small role. On the last day of the Olympics you hand the flag to the next country. That’s it.”

Tomorrow Mr Livingstone will be facing a gay audience at the Stonewall hustings. The event is already booked out.

Mr Paddick, Mr Johnson, Green candidate Sian Berry and Ms German will also be there to answer questions.

Full list of candidates for Mayor of London:

Richard Barnbrook – British National Party

Gerard Batten – UK Independence Party

Sian Berry – Green Party

Alan Craig – Christian Peoples Alliance and Christian Party

Lindsey German – The Left List

Boris Johnson – Conservative Party

Ken Livingstone – Labour Party

Winston McKenzie – Independent

Matt O’Connor – English Democrats

Brian Paddick – Liberal Democrats

More: Mayoral Election

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