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banner Friday, 5 May, 2000, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Ken's blow to New Labour

Ken Livingstone will styart creating his team
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder..

Tony Blair has been delivered a massive mid-term snub as London voters crowned Ken Livingstone as the capitals first directly-elected mayor.

His misery was compounded when Labour even failed to win an outright majority on the new London authority.

The result will send shockwaves through the Labour party and spark a lengthy inquest into how it all went so wrong for Mr Blair's pet devolution project.

And it will massively strengthen the hand of those on the Labour benches who are warning the prime minister about ignoring traditional party supporters.

As Mr Livingstone had himself predicted, the vote was far closer than originally suggested.

Tory Steve Norris delighted his party by putting up a strong eleventh-hour showing and pushing Labour's beleagured Frank Dobson into third place, just ahead of the Liberal Democrats Susan Kramer.

Steve Norris made a late surge
And the Tories will be equally ecstatic that they performed so well in the elections to the London authority.

They actually won 8 seats compared to Labour's 6 in the first-past-the-post section of the poll, with Labour having to rely on "top up" votes from the PR section to make it neck and neck with the Tories at 9 each.

Runaway favourite

The result marked the culmination of a bitter and protracted campaign which stumbled between shambles and farce and which was marked by internal party feuding and recriminations.

Mr Livingstone had been the runaway favourite from the very start of the campaign and all attempts to stop him winning failed, or backfired embarrassingly on Tony Blair.

And the prime minister had long resigned himself to the inevitable nightmare of "Red" Ken in control of London.

But that will take little of the sting out of the result, which comes as the government is struggling to recover from one of its most difficult periods since it was elected to office just three years ago.

It represents the greatest electoral setback for Mr Blair since 1997 and has the potential to saddle him with a running sore.

The result is also a huge blow for Mr Dobson who had to be "persuaded" to give up his cabinet post to stand as Mr Blair's man.

There is now a large question mark hanging over the ex-health secretary's future.

What surprised all parties was the low turnout in the poll which suggested the rows surrounding the campaigns had put many off the whole idea of an elected mayor.

Olive branch

Mr Blair will now have to live with Mr Livingstone as the capital's boss and is expected to order his members on the assembly not to launch a guerrilla war against Mr Livingstone but co-operate with him.

Both sides appeared to offer olive branches with Mr Livingstone saying he wanted to draw a line in the sand over the past recriminations.

Mr Blair, speaking from Northern Ireland where he was engaged in a fresh round of peace talks, said the people of London had spoken and it was now up to him and Mr Livingstone to accept their responsibilities and "make this work."

What Mr Blair fears most is that Mr Livingstone will use his new position as a platform to attack the government and act as a constant reminder to voters of Labour's "loony left" past.

And, while the prime minister has recently tried to distance himself from the entire contest, the result is still a huge personal blow to him.

The mayor's job was his creation but immediately it became a reality he found himself battling to stop Mr Livingstone getting the job.

His control freak antics angered many party members and ordinary voters and there is little doubt that part of the result was a reaction against his tactics.

But there was also a widespread desire to give the government a bloody nose in the wake of troubles over the NHS, sterling, Rover, asylum seekers and law and order.

And even a last minute personal plea from Mr Blair for voters to think twice before electing Mr Livingstone fell on deaf ears.

The result was a good one for Mr Norris who was never his party's first choice but who, along with the other candidates, will be offered a job by Mr Livingstone.

William Hague's Conservatives suffered their own mayoral crisis when original candidate Lord Archer was forced to quit after confessing to trying to cook up a false alibi for himself during a libel trial 14 years ago. So they will be extremely happy with their final showing.

The Liberal Democrats will have some cause for celebration after Ms Kramer put up a good performance, but will be disappointed she did not beat Mr Dobson into fourth place.

But, as with the local elections and the Romsey by-election, it was the collapse of support for Tony Blair and Labour that marked the contest.

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