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banner Friday, 5 May, 2000, 01:33 GMT 02:33 UK
Mayoral shadow over Labour

Ken Livingstone's victory will spark a Labour inquest
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

Ken Livingstone's imminent victory in the bitter battle to become London mayor will have consequences that will spread far beyond the capital.

Other cities considering going down the same route may find things more difficult in the wake of the London farce.

The Labour Party will be forced to re-think its obsession with central control and the way it plays favourites while dishing the dirt on its own members.

And Tony Blair is left nursing a major political black eye just as he plans to enter a general election campaign.

He has already been suffering from the control freak tag. That was something that he was usually happy to live with, thinking that most people saw it as strong leadership.

But he will be far less happy with his image as, to quote William Hague, a control freak who has lost control.

Tony Blair's backing for Frank Dobson appears to have done him little good
And the timing could not be worse, with the government struggling through one of its most difficult periods since it came to office.

Even the Sun newspaper, which crucially switched support to Labour in the 1997 election, has now turned against Mr Blair with headlines declaring "Mayday, Mayday".

It's 1 May page one opinion claimed the prime minister's problems over Rover, the NHS, asylum and law and order are seeing him "beginning to lose the next general election".

What went wrong?

That will seriously rattle the prime minister, who is obsessed with keeping Rupert Murdoch's newspaper on side for the next poll.

So the post-mortem into Labour's disastrous handling of the London mayoral race - along with the local election losses - will be bitter and protracted.

The first thing Tony Blair will have to do is decide whether to order his troops on the Greater London Assembly to co-operate with the new mayor or use every opportunity to thwart him.

Most believe he will stop short of ordering all-out guerrilla warfare on Mr Livingstone and instead tell his Assembly members to, by and large, co-operate.

He will also certainly launch an inquiry into why it all went so horribly wrong - even though he probably already knows the answer to that - and how similar disasters can be averted in future.

One conclusion will certainly be that the desire to control every event from Downing Street or Labour's national headquarters at Millbank Tower, in Westminster, doesn't sit well with a policy of devolution.

There may also be questions raised over the performance of staff at Millbank whose antics in trying to rubbish Mr Livingstone often looked crass and unsophisticated.

While much of the blame will be aimed at the inexperienced "teenagers" who inhabit Millbank Tower, the party's general secretary Margaret McDonagh may also be targeted - particularly over the shambolic selection procedure which was designed, but failed, to destroy the Livingstone campaign.

No encouragement

Labour's support for local mayors is likely to cool dramatically and Mr Blair will no doubt be delighted that the latest polls suggest ordinary voters have been switched off the idea by the goings-on in London.

Where there was once majority support for mayors in cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, voters have now changed their minds and the majority are opposed to the idea.

So any city that wants to press ahead with the idea will probably find little encouragement from the government.

Inevitably, however, the prime minister will face much of the flak with critics on his own side insisting he has brought many of the problems down onto his own head.

For his part, Mr Blair is expected to try to put the result behind him as quickly as possibly and attempt to re-focus his party on the looming general election.

But there is no doubt that the London affair will cast a long shadow over the government right up to that next polling day.

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