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banner Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Blair to turn out for Dobson

Frank Dobson "is a team player" says the prime minister
After weeks of speculation that he has written off Frank Dobson's chances of becoming London mayor, Prime Minister Tony Blair has agreed to appear in person to back his campaign.

Mr Blair has taken little part in the election campaign since Mr Dobson took Labour's nomination in a controversial victory over popular left-winger Ken Livingstone. But he has now agreed to appear in a photo-opportunity next week.

Mr Blair spoke on his former cabinet minister's behalf during Labour's internal battle but has not appeared in public with Mr Dobson for some time.

Rumours, aided by unattributed spindoctoring, spread at Westminster that the Labour leader had written off Mr Dobson's chance of winning the election.

Now in a magazine interview Mr Blair, speaking of his support for Mr Dobson, called him a "team player".

Poll gap

The former health secretary currently trails the independent candidate, Mr Livingstone, by around 40 points in the polls and there has been much media speculation that the prime minister had been keen to distance himself from what looks like a Labour defeat.

In an interview for Marie Claire magazine, Mr Blair said: "I'm supporting Frank because he is a very solid citizen, with the best policies and a proven track record of fighting and delivering for London."

Mr Blair also accused Mr Livingstone of hypocrisy over his criticisms of Labour's selection process for its mayoral candidate, which the Brent East MP says was devised to block his candidacy.

In February's selection Mr Livingstone took 70,000 votes of those party members and trade unionists who were balloted to Mr Dobson's 20,000.

But the victory was swung for Mr Dobson by the support of MPs and the block votes of the AEEU engineering union and the South London Co-op..

The prime minister blamed what he called the "hard left" for the use of the electoral college system despite it being put in place by Labour's ruling National Executive Committee, which scrapped original plans backed by all the candidates for a straightforward one-member-one-vote ballot of party members.

No return for Livingstone

Mr Blair said it was Mr Livingstone "and his supporters on the hard left who campaigned hard for the use of electoral colleges in these elections in the first place".

Labour sources have already suggested there will be no quick return to the party fold for Mr Livingstone, who has been expelled for standing against its official candidate. They say he will remain barred for at least five years.

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See also:

05 Apr 00 | London Mayor
MPs quiz mayoral candidates
04 Apr 00 | UK Politics
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03 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Dobson warns tube bosses
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