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EDITIONS
London Referendum Friday, 8 May, 1998, 02:59 GMT 03:59 UK
Overwhelming vote for mayor
By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

Londoners have voted overwhelmingly in favour of creating an elected mayor and assembly to run the capital.

With 26 of the 33 London votes counted, around 75% backed the proposal with only 25% saying "no".

The move was a resounding endorsement of Tony Blair's constitutional reforms. He claimed success in the early hours, declaring: "I am delighted that the people of London have voted so convincingly for a mayor an an assembly."

The only setback was the low turnout of around 33% which led to some Tory claims that it undermined the legitimacy of the vote. But Labour dismissed the claim, insisting people had not voted because they believed the result was a foregone conclusion.

A powerful figure

The Prime Minister has already declared that the mayor will be the most powerful politician outside Westminster.

He or she will command a budget of more than 3 billion and have control over police, fire and transport.

The holder will inevitably become a national figure similar to the often-controversial US mayors in cities like New York and Chicago.

The 25-strong assembly will have an electorate of more than five million and, like the mayor, will serve for five years.

Who will be mayor?

The referendum result, which delighted the government as it had put the policy at the centre of its manifesto for the capital, now opens the way for a fierce campaign between contenders for the post.

But it could also open up a battle inside the Labour party as Tony Blair looks for a suitable "New Labour" candidate to stop former GLC boss Ken Livingstone who has already announced he is ready to stand.

Labour leaders fear Mr Livingstone would use the power base as a platform to attack government policies in the same way he did when he led the council during Margaret Thatcher's premiership.

He is already top of the polls among Londoners, second only to Virgin boss Richard Branson who has effectively ruled himself out. It would be impossible for him to take up the full-time, paid job without putting his own business dealings on the back burner.

Possible "official" Labour candidates could include Transport Minister Glenda Jackson or even Health Secretary Frank Dobson.

TV presenter Trevor Phillips, Sports Minister Tony Banks and backbencher Margaret Hodge have all been floated as possible "stop Ken" candidates.

The Tories, who urged Londoners to vote "yes and then vote Conservative" will put up a candidate selected by the membership.

Runners could include former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, recently appointed by the government to lead the review into the RUC in Ulster, and former ministers Steven Norris and David Mellor. The Liberal Democrats' favourite is Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes.

Whoever finally decides to stand, one thing is certain - they will be up against former Tory chairman, author and millionaire Jeffrey Archer.

He is the only candidate so far to have officially declared his hand and has already launched his campaign.

Links to more London Referendum stories are at the foot of the page.


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