Whisky & Ken: the row worsens

LAST UPDATED AT 16:29 ON Mon 21 Jan 2008

With less than four months to go before the London mayoral election, a documentary on Channel 4 tonight will claim that many of Mayor Ken Livingstone's senior advisors were Trotskyites plotting to turn the capital into a 'socialist city state' and that Livingstone's drinking habits - including a glass of whisky at a 10am public meeting - have raised questions among fellow politicians.

The mayor's office has already claimed that the allegations are 'ludicrous' and that the Dispatches programme is a 'hatchet job' which amounts to a party political broadcast on behalf of Boris Johnson, the Tory who hopes to take Ken's job off him in the May election.

However, the mayor's complaint would have more weight if the programme hadn't been made by Martin Bright, political editor of the Left-wing weekly the New Statesman, a man who was "delighted" when Livingstone became mayor in 2000 and who, as he writes in his Statesman blog, "could think of nothing worse than to support Johnson". Indeed, his magazine ran a highly critical article about Johnson in September with the cover line "The Joke".

But in researching the film, Bright claims to have come across "a blizzard of stories that do not show the mayor in an entirely good light". These include the cost of foreign trips and the establishment of 'London embassies' abroad; the allegation about Trotskyite advisors; questions of accountability and arrogance - according to one expert, Livingstone treats London Assembly members as "dunderheads" - and the evidence of drinking.

The Dispatches film examines allegations that Livingstone has been seen drinking whisky on three occasions at public meetings, including his monthly Mayor's Questions, where he faces scrutiny from London Assembly members. "This takes place at 10 o'clock in the morning, and drinking would be a disciplinary matter for his staff," says Bright.

One of the film's researchers claims to have heard Livingstone say openly in a lift in City Hall that he needed a whisky to get him through Mayor's Questions, adding that this was because of a cough.

On another occasion, Bright himself claims to have seen Livingstone drinking. The mayor, he says, was sipping from a tumbler of whisky at People's Questions at Ilford Town Hall, a public platform where he faced questions from London voters. "Although it was an evening event," says Bright, "I felt this showed a degree of disrespect for the audience. No member of the Assembly on the platform was drinking anything other than water." The film-makers had the mayor's glass and it contents analysed to prove it contained whisky.

Finally, Bright points out that Livingstone has just won the support of several prominent Muslim organisations for the forthcoming mayoral election. "The general view is that alcohol is haram [forbidden] in Islam, so I can only imagine they will take a dim view of whisky-drinking on the job." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.