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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 06:16 GMT

UK Politics

Labour under fire over Livingstone

Ken Livingstone before his selection panel interview

The Labour Party is facing criticism after left-wing MP Ken Livingstone was asked to reappear before its selection panel for London mayoral candidates.

The BBC's Carolyn Quinn: "Adding to the feeling of chaos surrounding the whole procedure"
Mr Livingstone was interviewed by the 13-strong selection panel which was set up to decide which of Labour's candidates are suitable to stand in next May's election.

But despite Prime Minister Tony Blair clearing his diary to ensure he could give a reaction to a decision, the meeting ended on Tuesday evening without reaching a decision on a shortlist. A further meeting will be held on Thursday.

[ image:  ]
After four hours, Mr Livingstone was told he must return on Thursday to clarify his stance on the government's proposals for the partial privatisation of London Underground - which he opposes.

The decision was immediately attacked by Glenda Jackson, one of Mr Livingstone's rivals for selection, as "inconceivable".

Speaking on BBC Two's Newsnight, she said: "I am a member of this party, I'm committed to this party and I'm concerned with the damage that I believe is being inflicted on this party because this situation needs someone to get a grip on it and for a decision to be taken.

"We're supposed to be fighting the mayoral election next May - are we going to be in a position where we won't even have selected our own candidate?"

Mr Livingstone said: "I've seen popes elected by cardinals in a shorter time than this."

[ image: Glenda Jackson:
Glenda Jackson: "This situation needs someone to get a grip on it"
He added: "We should be grown-up enough to allow London Labour Party members and MPs to decide which candidate has got the best policy on modernising the Tube, and not try to pre-empt that by barring myself."

However, speaking on Newsnight, Mr Livingstone ruled out standing as an independent if he was not selected.

Former ministers Frank Dobson and Ms Jackson, along with businessman Ken Baldry, also faced the interview panel at Labour's Millbank Tower headquarters. A decision had been expected the same day.

Clive Soley, chair of the parliamentary Labour Party, said it was the board's responsibility to ensure all shortlisted candidates were committed to Labour's policies and programmes.

Ken Livingstone: "I think we can get over the problem"
He said: "However, on the answers given, we could not be sufficiently assured on the commitment that Ken Livingstone has given us on his willingness to commit himself to the policies of the Labour Party and to stand on the party's manifesto.

"It became apparent during the London selection board's deliberations, after the candidates had left, that there were aspects of Mr Livingstone's answers which required clarification.

"In particular we need to clarify whether or not he would stand down and leave us without a candidate if the manifesto was not to his liking."

[ image: Frank Dobson: Said to be Downing Street's preferred candidate]
Frank Dobson: Said to be Downing Street's preferred candidate
Opposition parties were quick to attack the delay.

Shaun Woodward, the shadow minister for London, said it was "a reflection of the contempt with which Labour holds the whole mayoral election process".

Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Susan Kramer said the "incompetence" of Labour's selection process should disqualify the party from the elections.

The chief focus on Labour's mayoral contest has been on whether the Brent East MP - who has been out-polling the other contenders among Labour supporters and London voters - would be allowed to go forward to the next stage of the selection battle.

The Labour leadership is anxious to avoid the former Greater London Council leader, an outspoken critic of government policy in the past, winning the party's mayoral nomination.

The shortlisted names will be put to Labour's three-way electoral college of London party members, affiliated trade unions in the capital, and elected representatives - the city's MPs, MEPs and Greater London Assembly candidates.

The eventual victor of Labour's selection contest will face Ms Kramer and Conservative candidate Lord Archer in next year's election.

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