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banner Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Livingstone hails Lib Dem chance
Iain Duncan Smith's election as Conservative leader gives the Liberal Democrats their best chance in a lifetime, London Mayor Ken Livingstone has told a conference fringe meeting.

As he pitched his big tent in Bournemouth before heading to Labour's gathering in Brighton, Mr Livingstone was urged to get in a train, bus or taxi to complete his political journey to the Lib Dems from the party that exiled him.


"I keep meeting cabinet ministers saying to me 'I don't believe in PPP, you know, but I can't say anything

Ken Livingstone
While there were no signs of the mayor being wooed into that by the cheers of the Lib Dem faithful at Wednesday's Greater London Authority fringe meeting, he did think the party could help take the chance to shift British politics in a more radical direction.

"I believe the election of Iain Duncan Smith gives your party its biggest opportunity in my lifetime," he said.

"I believe his election guarantees another Tory election defeat and it might even be terminal."

Paid support

Most of his speech was, however, dominated by the continuing row over the government's public-private partnership (PPP) plans for the Tube.

"The only people who support PPP are the people who are paid by the government," he said.

"I keep meeting cabinet ministers saying to me 'I don't believe in this, you know, but I can't say anything'."

Mr Livingstone urged Lib Dem MPs to put down a simple motion urging the government to transfer the running of the Underground immediately to his transport commissioner, Bob Kiley, and end the PPP plans.

"Let's see how long the Labour MPs actually vote - privately practically none of them agree with it."

'Obscene'

He claimed the multi-million pound PPP contracts would give a 35% return and mean only 55% of the money would go into the Tube.

"This is not value for money, it is obscene."

Mr Livingstone also welcomed the Commons Transport sub-committee's plans, announced on Wednesday, to re-examine the PPP plans.

Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate Susan Kramer argued the controversy about the Underground plans was not a transport argument.

"What essentially it is, is a strategy over political power," she said, saying real devolution was needed so local transport problems could get the local solutions they needed.

She was not opposed in principle to involving the private sector in certain areas but the Tube plans ran the danger of turning a public sector monopoly into a private sector monopoly.

Infrastructure run down

Professor Stephen Glaister, who like Ms Kramer is a member of the Transport for London board, warned that methods had to be found to tackle the rising demand for mobility.

What concerned him most was the way transport infrastructure had been allowed to be run down by successive governments.

"Unless you can somehow get a resolution that we are going to have a repetition of the sorry tale of under investment in infrastructure that we have had for 20 years."

Prof Glaister argued PPP was an ineffective form of borrowing used by the Treasury to hold onto central control.

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