The Socialist City

There are probably very few times when Bill Clinton has looked at Ken Livingstone with envy, but as the left-wing Londoner pursues his fresh mayoral ambitions, the two-term president must wish he could jump back into the ring.

Back in 2003, Clinton called for an end to the ban on serving more than two terms as president. The rule should be amended, he suggested, to a ban on more than two consecutive terms.

His rationale was that people now live longer than in decades past. Certainly, Livingstone’s enduring lust for the mayoral life is a fascinating insight into the appetites of the political animal.

At the age of 65 he has won re-selection, beating the youthful and centrist Oona King. Instead of jumping onto the velvet sofa of a happy retirement he wants to take on the job of leading a city of 7.5 million people – more than twice the population of Wales.

Livingstone’s two-term tenure, from 2000 to 2008, coincided with Britain’s boom years. Londoners seemed to relish the mischief of electing a socialist icon to run a capitalist megalopolis.

In a further move of irony, they put a Conservative in the office in the same year the international banking system, which had fuelled the City’s extraordinary wealth, unravelled.

If Livingstone is able to win re-election in 2012, he will discover that the role of mayor is starkly different to the one he so enjoyed. Instead of being cheque-signer in chief, he will be dealing with cuts and pacifying outraged interest groups.

Who would want such a job? Does Livingstone want to be tested in a political gale? Perhaps he sees this as a chance to show to the world that left-wing policies not only have a place in the 21st century, but can shield the vulnerable during the most terrifying storms?

In an age of austerity, the question of what government should do and how it should spend taxpayers’ money has the potential to electrify cash-strapped voters.

It will excite Londoners in 2012, and if the National Assembly had tax-varying powers it would define next year’s election. Rows over spending priorities may yet widen the left-right divide in Welsh politics.

First Minister Carwyn Jones is now the most senior elected Labour politician in Britain. As the party crafts its manifesto, he has the opportunity to demonstrate what a left-of-centre response to the social and economic challenges of modern Wales looks like.

A work of real imagination might win the admiration of colleagues across the Severn Bridge – and it is not hard to envisage the most striking ideas appearing in a mayoral manifesto.

A Saturday column