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Tuesday, 1 February, 2000, 16:53 GMT
Banks: I warned Blair on mayor

Labour's three mayoral hopefuls: Glenda Jackson, Ken Livingstone and Frank Dobson

Former sports minister Tony Banks warned Tony Blair against making "errors of judgement" in his bid to ensure left-wing MP Ken Livingstone does not win Labour's London mayoral nomination - but his advice was ignored.

London Mayor
In an interview with BBC News Online, the West Ham MP said that while he was "delighted" the capital was to have an elected mayor, "I've not been overjoyed by the way it's been handled subsequently - and I've said this quite directly to the prime minister as well".

Labour's mayoral contest has been dogged by controversy and accusations of dirty tricks as the prime minister and other senior Labour figures have sought to halt the Livingstone bandwagon.

But the Brent East MP, popular with Labour's grassroots and the opinion poll front-runner for London mayor, has maintained his lead over Mr Blair's preferred choice, Frank Dobson.

Tony Banks: Warned Blair, but advice was ignored
In the interview Mr Banks said he warned Mr Blair face to face it would be a serious tactical mistake for New Labour managers and Blairite Dobson supporters to attack the Greater London Council.

Mr Livingstone first rose to national prominence as leader of the GLC from 1981-1986, a period when it came under heavy sustained attack from the Thatcher-supporting tabloid press for "loony leftism".

'Enormous affection' for GLC

Mr Banks, who also served on the GLC in the 1970s and 1980s, said it was remembered with "enormous affection" by Labour members and Londoners due to the groundbreaking policies it pioneered.

Because Mr Livingstone had a high public profile as its leader at the time, popular GLC initiatives like Fares Fair and the opening up of the Festival Hall, as well as anti-racist and anti-sexist policies, have all "now coalesced in the name of Ken Livingstone".

"And the more that people have attacked the GLC the more they've strengthened Ken Livingstone, because it's like attacking the GLC - and that's a dumb thing to do.

"Tony Blair, and not only just Tony Blair but many people in the Labour Party, didn't understand that."

"Again, in a meeting with the prime minister I made it quite clear really," Mr Banks said. "We've got into this mess that we're in now, I said. But the last thing that we need now is for an onslaught on the GLC.

"Because people like me are never going to disown that. I'm proud of what we did on the GLC. No way am I going to turn round now and say 'This was all wrong'. Because it wasn't all wrong."

"If you can't see that, you're going to make enormous errors of judgement right the way through."

Wrong selection system

Ken Livingstone: Bandwagon keeps on rolling
Mr Banks said Labour had chosen the wrong selection process to choose its mayoral candidate. Because there were few policy differences between the three contenders - Mr Livingstone, Mr Dobson and Glenda Jackson - the battle had inevitably focused on the personal.

"And that in the end comes down to personalities and character strengths and defects," he said. "And I don't really feel that that sort of discussion, which is very subjective, is actually conducive to harmony within a party."

The selection contest had also damaged the London Labour Party: "No one can say this has been a cleansing process, [or] this has been a strengthening process of the party in London," he said. "It hasn't been. It has been a mess. It has been undignified. It's been divisive."

Rather than an electoral college, which includes a ballot of party members, local parties should have been invited to nominate mayoral candidates. The London party should then have drawn up a shortlist of candidates based on interviews.

But the final decision should have been made by the party's ruling National Executive Committee.

Mr Banks also restated his backing for former health secretary Mr Dobson to win the Labour nomination: "In the end I'm voting for Dobson because I think Dobson's doing it for London, and I think in the end I have to say I think Ken's doing it for Ken."

The victor of Labour's selection contest is announced later this month. The mayoral election in London takes place on 4 May.

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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Ambassador Banks
27 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Dobson: Party machine 'did me harm'
26 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Blair pulls out the stops for Dobson
26 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Labour mayor saga enters final stretch
19 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Labour leaders raise mayoral stakes
17 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
I'm not backed by stooges, says Dobson
12 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Labour accused of fixing London race

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