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London Mayor Friday, 5 May, 2000, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
How it all went wrong for Dobson
Where next for Labour in London?
Frank Dobson lost Labour the contest to be London mayor in spectacular fashion, coming in third behind the Tories.

The capital's first mayoral election should have been a shoe-in for Labour, the party that dominates politics in London, but instead the former health secretary only brought in a humiliating 12.78 % of the vote.

From the word go, the Dobson campaign was a text book example of how to set about things the wrong way.

And Labour's disaster in London will come as a warning to the party's general election campaign strategists as they ponder the debacle from its Millbank Tower headquarters.

I am the secretary of state for health, I intend remaining the secretary of state for health, I hope to grace your programme for a long time to come in that job.

Frank Dobson on Today, July 1999
Right from the start it appeared doubtful that Mr Dobson even wanted the job.

He had reached the cabinet and after earlier being tipped for the sack, was making a success of his role.

But as the mayoral election approached he was increasingly touted as Tony Blair's "stop Ken" candidate.

Perhaps recklessly, he declared his desire to remain health secretary.

Once in the fray he had to reluctantly resign from the cabinet, after finding that doing the two jobs at once was untenable.

But ironically it was while Dobson fought to rid himself of the perception that he didn't want to be mayor, and had only been forced into it by the prime minister, that his poll position was at its highest - albeit only in the early 20s.

But the wheels of the Dobson campaign bandwagon began to come off before it ever got out of the driveway.

Ken Livingstone overshadowed Dobson throughout the race
Within a week of announcing he was to stand, he looked like the beneficiary of a party leadership fix to prevent popular left-winger Ken Livingstone gaining Labour's mayoral nomination.

Turning its back on selecting Labour's candidate through a simple one member, one vote system, as had previously been promised, the party's ruling National Executive Committee put in place an electoral college system - complete with union block votes.

Damaged by electoral college

Dobson strongly denied having anything to do with choosing the system and insisted that the perception it created of him as a leadership stooge did him real damage.

He said at the time: "When I decided to stand I believed, like everybody else did, it would be decided by one member, one vote and I believed I would win under that system.

"And then the electoral college was introduced and I believe that has done me a great deal of harm because I have been associated with it."

His protestations of innocence cut little ice with party members. When, after weeks of acrimonious campaigning, the final result was announced Dobson's victory was so narrow it was bound to cause uproar.

The voting figures for the college also spoke for themselves: more people had voted for Livingstone, and yet Dobson walked away with the nomination. Wherever ballots had been held, Livingstone won by massive majorities.

What clinched the nomination for Blair's choice was the block vote from the engineering union the AEEU and the South London Co-op.

Strained victory

Livingstone had taken over 70,000 votes of trade unionists and party members compared to Dobson's 24,000; it was hardly a ringing endorsement.

His position was made even more difficult when Livingstone left him hanging in the wind for nearly two weeks before declaring his intention to stand as independent, saying he was doing so having listened to the call of Londoners.

It was a statement consistently endorsed by the opinion polls, which put Livingstone's lead over his rivals at between 30-40 percentage points.

Dobson's campaign lacked oomph and was at odds with popular feeling.

His decision to endorse the government's partial sell-off of the Tube - under the Public Private Partnership scheme set up by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott - was out of step with public opinion.

And his proposal not to take any dramatic action to reduce the capital's chronic traffic congestion until a second term of office also failed to inspire.

It was a cautious campaign designed not to lose votes, when taking the attack to Livingstone was essential if headway was to be made.

In the fall-out of Labour's humiliating defeat, many will be waiting to see what the man who did his leader's bidding has to say about it.

London Mayor News

Background and analysis

See also:

09 Oct 99 | UK Politics
20 Feb 00 | UK Politics
12 Apr 00 | London Mayor
09 Jul 99 | UK Politics
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