It was during the 1980s that the love affair between London's gay community and Ken Livingstone flourished. Gays were under attack from the vicious Thatcherite regime, a hostile Press, and a frightening new disease that Thatcher largely ignored and the Press sensationalised, trivialised and found scapegoats for. It's easy, now, to forget what a bulwark of resistance Ken (at the helm of the old GLC) came to represent. Apart from some well-heeled Tory gays, whose money insulated them against the effects of the anti-gay backlash, many of us came to regard Ken Livingstone as a hero, almost our protector.
In 2000, many of us enthusiastically helped sweep Ken back to power, this time at the GLA, housed in a new glass testicle next to Tower Bridge. We thought he would continue where he had left off, 14 years previously, but we were badly let down. Even before the Qaradawi incident, Ken had realised – together with most of the Left – that Muslims were a far better electoral prospect, being more numerous, concentrated and motivated a constituency than homosexuals could ever be. Our interests were unceremoniously relegated in order to get radical Muzzos on board. The Iraq War just accelerated this process, as left-wingers' knee-jerk anti-Americanism catapulted them into the clutches of every dodgy Islamist going (or rather coming – our borders having become somewhat porous by this time).
Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi's visit to the capital in July 2004 was a watershed moment. Pictures of Ken kissing and cuddling this hateful individual turned people's stomachs right across London – including those of quite a few Muslims I know. From that moment on, he was dead to me and thousands of other Londoners. Unfortunately, a small number of left-wing gays, including a handful of GALHA members, had by this time become deeply involved with Ken's administration, being frequent visitors to his glass testicle. Some had positions on the notorious "Equality & Diversity" forum – a circus of bickering and bitchery unparalleled in modern political history. Others received hand-outs from the public purse. Clearly, then, those gays benefiting from the GLA gravy-train, were not going to let Ken and his new Islamist pals be criticised by freethinking gay radicals within GALHA and the PTT.
The fallout in 2005 over the final edition of Andy Armitage's Gay & Lesbian Humanist magazine was initiated by the Ken-compromised chairman of GALHA at the time, Derek Lennard. In a typically shrill riposte, he attacked Andy and other contributors, including myself, for daring to criticise Islam and Britain's woeful lack of immigration controls. Apparently, we had offended none other than the Islamophobia-Watch.com website (really? how awful!) – another of Ken's Trotskyist white elephants, sponsored by the public purse. Mysteriously, Derek's long list of objections fell into the hands of the respectable-sounding (but totally barking) Lesbian and Gay Campaign Against Racism (LAGCAR), which issued a scurrilous round-robin hatemail, attacking GALHA and the PTT and inviting signatures from every cranky left-wing pressure group belonging to – you've guessed it – the GLA's "Equality & Diversity" forum. Some of these groups contained respected paragons of public service, including Lee Jasper.
Unfortunately, this dirty tricks campaign was too much for the genteel members of the GALHA committee who panicked and caved-in to this outrageous bullying by the GLA, publicly issuing a grovelling reassurance that nothing of the kind would ever be repeated. Even worse, the left-wing architects of this disaster from within GALHA's own ranks were rewarded for their treachery with the hand-over of the GALHA magazine to their control, thus ensuring that nothing that might offend City Hall (or anything of any real interest) would ever be published under its auspices again. The ineffectual National Secular Society leadership stood idly by – and did nothing, though a few weeks later, in March 2006, it cynically supported the March for Freedom of Expression.
This all might have been forgivable, if the self-interest of Ken's fawning retinue of GALHA-gays had resulted in something worthwhile. However, projects like the ill-fated IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia), which benefited from a poster campaign saying it was "Supported by the Mayor of London", have hardly been a resounding success. According to Gay Times (May 2007), last year there were no events in the Midlands, Northern Ireland, the South West, East Anglia, the Humber, the North East, Scotland, Yorkshire, or Wales. So not exactly "international" then. Or, indeed, "national". And how, exactly, does a bunch of poofs releasing pink balloons outside a shopping mall save a single Iranian gay teenager from being hanged under Shariah law anyway? That'll show 'em!
Ah, you say, but what about Ken's trail-blazing for gay civil partnerships? It's important to remember here that when Ken introduced gay civil partnerships at City Hall they had no legal standing and were not worth the paper they were written on. Nevertheless, that didn't stop a number of gullible gays "tying the knot" – including at least one pair from GALHA – in order to show their support for this cupid stunt at City Hall. Let's be honest, though, after the election of Tony Blair in 1997, so-called "gay marriage" was bound to become a reality sooner or later. All Ken had to do, like a surfer, was anticipate exactly when to catch this wave and ride it to his own advantage – which he did, with consummate skill.
Ken was not an innovator, just a cynical opportunist. Gays, like Londoners generally, will be far better off without him – which is why, this time round, the pink vote will have largely turned blue.