The news that Ken Livingstone’s next book might be about what he calls his “sexual evolution” is likely to be causing a mild tremor of arousal among publishers. “I would like to write about my growing sexual awareness,” the former Mayor of London has told an interviewer on the publication of his autobiography, You Can’t Say That. Unfortunately, he added, “the press would turn it into something unbelievably squalid and salacious.”
In spite of this concern (which most publishers would see as a bonus, anyway), the idea is worth pursuing. To judge by the few details of his private life which he has teasingly revealed in the new book, Livingstone might have quite a lot to say about sexual evolution.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, while he was an MP, he was quite busy in that area, being – depending upon your point of view – a public-spirited sperm-donor, a generous friend, or a randy bastard who went to bed with women other than his long-term partner.
Quite a lot of fathering went on during that time. Ken’s friend Philippa Need “was very keen to have children, although she had failed to find the right partner”; he volunteered his services, and two children were born in 1990 and 1992. A newer pal, Jan Woolf, had a similar problem, and once again the MP was able to help out. Jan bore a son in 1992.
Although, somewhat ungallantly, Livingstone presents these arrangements as if he was going around doing good work of the selfless Geldofian kind, he has declined to confirm or deny that conception was managed in the traditional manner, as have the women involved.
There will be, of course, the usual silly fuss. The old “Red Ken” tag will be reactivated; uncharitable jokes will be made about his unlikely success with women. More seriously, he will be portrayed as representing in his private life the anti-family agenda of the Left. His multiple fathering activities reflect the morally slack approach to parenthood of “broken Britain”, it will be said.
Here is the problem: Ken Livingstone’s unconventional way of doing things has worked rather well. In spite of the best efforts of the Right-wing press, no evidence has been found that making himself available for breeding purposes has done any harm to those involved.
Soon after his second and third children were born within a few weeks of each other, the MP was taking all his children on outings to the zoo. When, later, he married and had two children within wedlock, the three families took to holidaying together.
It is a rather touching scene, Ken, the three women he impregnated, surrounded by their growing extended family. It may not be the kind of arrangement which would suit everyone, but it seems to have worked rather well for them. In his own quiet way, Ken Livingstone and his friends have shown that family life can be more flexible and grown-up than many would have us believe.
If next year’s election for Mayor of London is dominated, as seems highly likely, by the private lives of the two main contenders, we might well have another Mayor Ken in power. This time, we will at least know the reason for that slightly smug little smile that he so often wears.
What on earth is happening? Hardly a week goes by without a film or theatrical company reviving a work which caused shock and outrage several decades ago. It as if we have suddenly been transported back 40 years.
A re-make of the film Straw Dogs (rape among the country bumpkins) is just to be released. A new production of Edward Bond’s Saved (violence and baby-stoning in the urban underclass) has opened at the Lyric, Hammersmith. At Stratford, the Royal Shakespeare Company is staging Marat/Sade (dildos, simulated rape, erotomania, perversion etc etc) as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations.
The coverage has been quite like the old days, too. There have been scandalised reports in the newspapers. At the Marat/Sade, audiences are walking out, declaring it to be “the worst kind of filth dressed up as quality theatre”. One almost expects Mary Whitehouse or Lord Longford to loom up balefully on Newsnight.
If drama still has the power to offend, the battle-lines between those in favour of permissiveness and those scandalised by it are altogether less clear. If anything, it seems that we are more easily offended today – or perhaps less embarrassed about admitting it – than they were back in the Sixties and Seventies. Producers, meanwhile, have learned a useful lesson. Sex and violence have nostalgia-value. The shockwaves of outrage that greeted the first appearance of a play or film have one great advantage: they ensure that the work is remembered down the years.
It can surely only be a matter of time before a loving remake of A Clockwork Orange is before us.
Independenmt, 25 October 2011