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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 20:52 GMT 21:52 UK

UK Politics

Glenda takes on stop-Ken role

Glenda Jackson's star status could boost her mayoral chances

Glenda Jackson's resignation as transport minister means Tony Blair at last has a high-profile candidate to combat Ken Livingstone's campaign to become London's mayor.

For months, Downing Street has been seeking a big name to take on Mr Livingstone in the selection race to be Labour's candidate in the mayoral election.

Opinion polls have suggested that Mr Livingstone would have a very strong chance of being elected if he was picked by the party.

[ image: Ken Livingstone: Downing Street wants him stopped]
Ken Livingstone: Downing Street wants him stopped
However, the prime minister is thought to be determined to see a New Labour loyalist installed rather than Mr Livingstone - an outspoken left-wing critic of the Blair regime.

Ms Jackson, who represents the north London constituency of Hampstead and Highgate, had been tipped to lose her job in the reshuffle anyway.

Her performance as a minister has been widely criticised.

But the personal popularity of the former Oscar-winning actress could count strongly in her favour in her attempt to become Labour's candidate.

In a statement she said: "I have tendered my resignation from government, which the prime minister has been gracious enough to accept, and I am officially announcing that I will be throwing my hat firmly in the ring to be Labour's candidate for mayor of London."

Ms Jackson's ministerial responsibilities have included trying to improve the state of the capital's dilapidated public transport system - an issue which is likely to dominate the forthcoming London elections.

Just last week the government announced an extra £517m for London Underground to tide the network over until it is partially privatised in 2001.

Search for a challenger

Mr Livingstone's strong public standing partially stems from his time as leader of the Greater London Council.

The new London Assembly which will be elected next year will be the first unitary authority for the capital since the GLC was scrapped by former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the eighties.

[ image: Frank Dobson: Denied he was pressured to run against Mr Livingstone]
Frank Dobson: Denied he was pressured to run against Mr Livingstone
Several senior Labour figures, including Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, are thought to have rejected Downing Street's overtures to take on Mr Livingstone.

In February, Health Secretary Frank Dobson denied persistent reports that he was being leaned on to run against the Brent East MP.

Ms Jackson's decision means that Mr Blair's search for a credible challenger is finally at an end.

However, Mr Livingstone has been highly vocal in his campaign against what he regards as Downing Street's attempts to block his candidature. He even wrote an open letter to Mr Blair asking to be allowed to stand.

But on the record Labour officials deny there is a conspiracy against him.

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