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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 12:00 GMT

UK Politics

Ken set for boost in mayor poll

Ken Livingstone: Still the voters' favourite

By political correspondent Nick Assinder

Ken Livingstone's dream of becoming London's first political mayor is expected to take a small step forward when he is included on the Labour party's shortlist for the job.

After a vetting session by a 13-strong selection panel at the party's Millbank HQ, in which he may be asked to take a so-called loyalty oath, Mr Livingstone is likely to be one of three allowed to compete for the candidacy.

But the decision, now believed to have Tony Blair's backing, will only heighten the party leadership's panic over the final result - particularly as opinion polls still give Mr Livingstone a runaway lead.

All eyes will turn to the final stage of the competition which will see a specially-created electoral college choosing who should be Labour's candidate to run against the Tories' Jeffery Archer and the Liberal Democrats' Susan Kramer.

The college is made up of three sections, MPs and MEPs, trade unions and ordinary members.

[ image: Frank Dobson: Wants to challenge Livingstone]
Frank Dobson: Wants to challenge Livingstone
The scheme has been attacked for being another attempt to block Mr Livingstone and members are expected to come under intense pressure to back Mr Blair's anointed candidate Frank Dobson.

It is no secret that Mr Blair would do virtually anything to stop "Red" Ken from becoming Labour's candidate for what will be one of the most high-profile jobs in British politics.


But his alleged attempts to stitch-up the selection so far have sparked a violent backlash amongst both London voters and party members.

Original plans to ensure he failed to be shortlisted went down particularly badly and it is that which is believed to have changed Tony Blair's mind.

It virtually ensured Mr Livingstone made it to the shortlist. But, if he succeeds, the real battle will only just have begun.

The rival candidates will move into top gear and everyone expects Labour leaders to pull out all the stops to swing the electoral college behind Mr Dobson.

Loony left

Mr Livingstone's so-called "loony left" past as leader of the old Greater London Council, when he won the tile "Red Ken", will be combed through by his opponents.

And he will probably face a bitter campaign of personal attacks based on claims he would use the mayor's job to promote himself rather than London.

[ image: Glenda Jackson: May stand down]
Glenda Jackson: May stand down
It is also possible the remaining candidate - widely expected to be former minister Glenda Jackson - may pull out of the race to give Mr Dobson a clear run against Mr Livingstone.

But she defied previous pressure on her to stand down when Mr Dobson finally announced his candidacy last month after months of declaring he was not interested in the job.

One of Labour's great fears is that, if he is blocked from standing, Mr Livingstone might run as an independent.

He is likely to have given a pledge to the selection panel not to go it alone but many believe he could still be persuaded if the majority of ordinary Labour members voted for him in that section of the electoral college.

He would instantly be kicked out of the Labour party, but the prize of becoming London mayor might be enough to tempt him.

The prime minister also has a lot to lose as a result of the campaign. It has already seen his "control freak" reputation enhanced and, while he might enjoy being viewed as a strong leader, that could easily turn against him, particularly with vital core Labour voters.

Either way, the months before next May's poll are certain to prove hugely difficult for Labour in London and could have serious repercussions for Mr Blair.

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