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Friday, January 29, 1999 Published at 07:17 GMT

UK Politics

Red Ken promises to be good

Ken Livingstone: "I want to put such absurdities to a rest"

Labour rebel Ken Livingstone has pledged he will support Tony Blair's government if he is allowed to stand as his party's candidate for mayor of London.

In an open letter to the prime minister, addressed to "Dear Tony", Mr Livingstone dismissed suggestions he would use the office as a platform to attack the government.

Political Correspondent Jon Devitt: "It is expected that a vetting panel will be used to prevent the left-winger being chosen"
The MP for Brent East, affectionately known as Red Ken, is widely popular with the public and Labour's grassroots - but faces opposition to his bid to become the Labour's mayoral candidate from party managers and the leadership.

Party officials have been accused of running a "Stop Ken" campaign to prevent his candidacy.

Mr Livingstone. the opinion poll front-runner to become London's mayor, told the BBC: "As mayor I'll fight to get the resources London needs but I won't have a sustained campaign of opposition to Tony Blair's government."

But Environment Minister Nick Raynsford, who is thought to harbour his own hopes of becoming mayor, said Mr Livingstone's new position was at odds with his previous comments.

On the record pledge

He said: "It's rather at variance with what he was saying a year ago when he regarded the whole idea of a mayor for London, in his words, barmy."

Mr Livingstone's letter, published in The Guardian newspaper, says: "I want to put such absurdities to a rest once and for all and give you a categorical assurance that, if Londoners voted for me to be their first elected mayor, I would work with your government and not against it.

[ image: Mr Livingstone once led the abolished GLC]
Mr Livingstone once led the abolished GLC
"It is important that such a pledge is on record rather than simply part of some private understanding between us."

The letter goes on to say Mr Livingstone, former leader of the abolished Greater London Council, accepted his election ticket may have to be balanced with a "deputy mayor more closely associated with the new Labour project".

Mr Livingstone said he would, for example, be more than happy to run on a joint ticket with journalist Trevor Phillips, "who I understand is your preferred choice".

The letter also contains a warning to Mr Blair that Labour could lose the mayoral election in 2000 unless he is allowed to stand.

It says: "I am sure you are aware that all recent opinion polls have shown me to be Labour's strongest candidate to win next year's election.

"It would be a tragedy if the new system of government you are creating for London were to fall into the hands of a Tory mayor because of a backlash among Londoners resentful at being told who they could or could not vote for."

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