One of the great slogans of the Blitz years in World War II was “London can take it.” London has taken a great many things in its time. But there is some doubt as to how much more it can take of the man who has been its mayor for the past two years, Ken Livingstone.

Odd though it may seem, until Labour came to power in 1997 London had got by without a mayor. Its individual boroughs had mayors, and the City of London (the square mile or so where the medieval city once stood) had a Lord Mayor, but no one figure presided over the conurbation as a whole. For Tony Blair, this was an anomaly which cried out to be put right. His government instituted a new municipal system, and almost at once he fell victim to the law of unintended consequences.

It had been taken for granted that Labour had the mayoral election in the bag. Then Livingstone, a veteran of the far left, made an unexpected bid to be...


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