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Friday, November 12, 1999 Published at 13:08 GMT

UK Politics

Anti-Ken campaign gets desperate

By political correspondent Nick Assinder

It is no secret that Labour is growing increasingly desperate about the selection of a candidate to run for the job of London mayor.

Party bosses are prepared to do virtually anything to stop Ken Livingstone winning the contest.

Numerous tactics have been attempted. First it was to put up London minister Nick Raynsford as the "stop Ken" candidate then, when that clearly wasn't going to work, poor old Frank "Uncle Albert" Dobson was prevailed upon to stand.

The selection procedure was then rigged in Dobson's favour and there has even been talk about banning Livingstone on the grounds of disloyalty.

None of it is working, of course. Ken Livingstone still demands huge public support and Frank Dobson's campaign stumbles from one crisis to another.

But the latest idea being floated by some of the more excitable Labour aides is that there should be no selection at all.

[ image: Jeffrey Archer: emerging as Labour's favourite]
Jeffrey Archer: emerging as Labour's favourite
They think all the candidates should be allowed to stand and the London electorate given the final choice.

It is a bizarre notion and has no chance of being adopted - but is speaks volumes about the leadership's panic.

The effect of such a plan would be to split the Labour vote, virtually guaranteeing victory to Tory candidate Jeffrey Archer.

And for many it has confirmed the suspicion that Labour would rather have Archer as mayor than Livingstone on the grounds he would do the government less harm.

The irony is, of course, that the Tories - who to their everlasting regret allowed ordinary party members to chose their candidate - would rather have Ken than Jeffrey.

As novelist Lord Archer probably wouldn't say "you couldn't make it up."

Drinking for Britain

As the beef war reached its height, the head of the Commons catering committee - the splendid Wolverhampton MP Dennis Turner - ordered that English wine should be made available in every bar on the premises.

Eager MPs duly lined up to do their bit for Britain by spurning the French stuff in favour of some home grown plonk.

[ image: Made in England]
Made in England
And the Wickham Fume, which originates from vineyards in Hampshire, is going down a bomb.

There's nothing better than serving your country while enjoying yourself at the same time.

Unfortunately one particularly patriotic MP nearly choked on his spritzer when he examined the label on the wine bottle a little too closely.

It boasts that this fine English wine was "fermented and matured in new French oak barrels."

You just can't trust anything these days.

One person one vote

One of Tony Blair's more radical manifesto commitments has finally been carried out. Well almost.

He has nearly kept his pledge to abolish the rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

He didn't go the whole hog, of course, but allowed 92 of them to hang on for an indefinite period of time.

Meanwhile, he will try to work out how to square the circle of extending democracy while at the same time denying people the opportunity of voting for members of the second chamber.

But that raises the fascinating question of what happens if one of the 92 hereditaries dies before the new chamber has been created.

The rule for the next parliament is simple. If one of the hereditaries dies then there will have to be a by-election.

The electorate will be made up of the existing peers from the same party.

That's good news for Labour - which only has two hereditaries.

If one of them dies then his successor will be elected by the other one.

So that's what Tony Blair means by one-member-one-vote.

No truck with Europe

Earlier this year William Hague pledged he would soon hit the road on the back of a flat bed lorry to take his anti-euro message direct to the voters.

[ image: In a jam over lorries]
In a jam over lorries
It was his equivalent of John Major's stunt of using a soap box to address election rallies.

But we are still waiting for the first of these roadshows and it now seems that the whole idea has been dropped.

What Mr Hague appeared not to have grasped is that no one in Britain makes lorries anymore.

So, had the plan gone ahead, he would almost certainly have been preaching his eurosceptic line from the back of a truck made somewhere in the EU.

Strains at the top

If there were any lingering doubts that Chancellor Gordon Brown and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson still hate the sight of each other then Trade Secretary Stephen Byers has firmly laid them to rest.

[ image: Stephen Byers let the cat out of the bag]
Stephen Byers let the cat out of the bag
Mr Byers was recently quizzed on the BBC's Today programme about Tony Blair's decision to give the two men joint responsibility for co-ordinating the next general election campaign.

Sue MacGregor pointedly asked him: "Famously though, they are not terribly fond of each other."

But, instead of a blank denial that there was any ill feeling between the two, Mr Byers let the cat out of the bag.

"But they are a wonderful team when they work together politically ", he replied.

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UK Politics Contents

A-Z of Parliament
Talking Politics
Vote 2001
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