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Monday, 17 January, 2000, 12:58 GMT
I'm not backed by stooges, says Dobson

Frank Dobson: Betting that no ministers will back Ken Livingstone

Labour mayoral candidate Frank Dobson has denied that Downing Street is ordering Cabinet ministers to pledge allegiance to his campaign in a desperate effort to stop Ken Livingstone.

Speaking as the Conservative Party prepared to announce the name of its candidate, meaning it could go ahead with full public campaigning, Mr Dobson said that he was so confident that no minister would back Ken Livingstone he was willing to stump up "a tenner" for each one that did.

Mr Dobson's defence came as the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, backed Mr Dobson in an article in the Guardian newspaper.

Despite the support, Mr Dobson has sought to put some distance between himself and Downing Street. Supporters say that while the candidate wants the continuing endorsement of the prime minister, he also wants to be seen as "his own man".

She said that party members would be committing a "huge mistake" if they voted for Ken Livingstone in a misplaced protest against the "imperfect process" of the party's handling of the mayoral race.

"Some have accused Frank of being a stooge of Number 10 in his bid to be mayor.

"That is completely false. Frank is no-one's stooge as anyone who knows him knows very well. Frank alone made the decision to stand."

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Dobson said: "My campaign has picked up ... we have got down to the issues and the policies.

"I have been readily endorsed by my Cabinet colleague Clare Short. I have had a lot of backing from Mo Mowlam.

"No one can suggest that these two strong women are doing it because they were told to.

"They're doing it because they think that I would make the best candidate and Ken would not."

Mr Dobson comments came amid continuing speculation that Mr Livingstone could win the party's nomination for the post despite a campaign to defeat him.

He said that party leaders were facing the prospect that his own campaign was becoming unstoppable.

"I think that they have had to come to terms with the fact that I might win the electoral college that they set up to stop me.

"But I have made clear that they (the Labour candidates) are all perfectly fit to be mayor and the party has to unite behind whoever wins
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