Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, his family has announced.
The one-time figurehead of the Labour Left is being “well cared for by his family and friends” as he lives a “private life” in retirement, they said in a statement issued to the PA news agency.
It said: “In response to media enquiries the Livingstone family today announce that Ken Livingstone, ex-MP for Brent and former mayor of London, has been diagnosed with and is living with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Although a previously prominent public figure, Ken is now retired and lives a private life. He will no longer be available for any media interviews or requests and we will not be responding to any media questions or enquiries.
“Ken is being well cared for by his family and friends and we ask you for your understanding and to respect his privacy and that of his family.”
While having largely retreated from public life in recent years, the 78-year-old was a prominent figure in London politics for more than four decades from the 1970s.
In his heyday, “Red Ken” was a thorn in the side both of Margaret Thatcher’s Tories and New Labour under Sir Tony Blair.
He stood as an independent and became the first mayor of London in May 2000 when then-prime minister Sir Tony created the powerful post.
In his second term, which he won as the official Labour candidate, he earned praise for the way he stood up for London after the July 2005 suicide bombings and helped win the 2012 Olympic Games for the capital.
Mr Livingstone lost City Hall in 2008 when he was defeated by an equally colourful opponent in Boris Johnson and a failed bid to return to office in 2012 marked the end of his electoral ambitions.
He became embroiled in a string of allegations of anti-Semitism, over which he quit the Labour Party in 2018.
It came after a long-running row over his claims that Adolf Hitler had backed Zionism in the 1930s, which had originally seen him suspended from the organisation in 2016.
The ex-Brent East MP was singled out in a human rights watchdog report in 2020 into how Labour dealt with anti-Semitism claims, which said Jewish Labour Party members felt he had made comments that “had the effect of stirring up and fuelling hatred for Jews”.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Mr Livingstone withdrew a legal challenge to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report.
The Alzheimer’s Society praised his family for “being open about his diagnosis”.
Chief executive Kate Lee said: “We are really sorry to hear that Ken Livingstone is living with Alzheimer’s disease. Our thoughts are with him and his family.
“We can see from the high profile individuals who have recently spoken about their dementia diagnosis, including Alastair Stewart and Fiona Phillips amongst others, how prevalent dementia is. One in three people born in the UK today will go on to develop this devastating condition.
“We’re grateful to Ken’s family for being open about his diagnosis which will really help increase public understanding. It’s crucial we get people talking because a problem of this scale won’t go away on its own.
“Receiving a diagnosis can be daunting, but we believe it’s better to know. Our website alzheimers.org.uk has plenty of resources, including a downloadable symptoms checklist that people can take with them to their GP.
“Please get in touch with Alzheimer’s Society if you need support on 0333 150 3456.”
Alzheimer’s Research UK chief executive Hilary Evans said: “We hope this will put a further spotlight on the desperate need to find new treatments for all forms of dementia.
“As it stands, there are no treatments available to slow or stop dementia. But in recent months, we have seen the tide beginning to turn on Alzheimer’s disease, with the first ever drugs that can slow its progression showing positive results in clinical trials.
“However while we wait to hear from regulators on whether these drugs are safe and effective, we know more needs to be done, and we’ll work tirelessly to bring about a world free of the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.”