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Wednesday, 1 March, 2000, 21:58 GMT
Dobson supporters target TV debate
Ken LIvingstone
Ken Livingstone: TV appearance on Thursday
Supporters of Labour candidate for London mayor Frank Dobson have attempted to pack out the audience for a TV debate featuring his rival Ken Livingstone.

London Mayor
An e-mail sent out by a trade union official urges opponents of Mr Livingstone to apply for tickets for the filming of the BBC's Question Time programme.

But a BBC spokesman said there was no chance of the attempt succeeding.

Meanwhile, as Mr Dobson described Mr Livingstone as "a gang of one", former Labour MP Dave Nellist - who was expelled from the party over his Militant links and is now a member of the Socialist Party - has said the left-winger would be welcomed in his party if he quit Labour.

He told Sky News: "There is a life outside Labour, there is a constituency Ken could appeal to."

The e-mail about Question Time, sent to more than 100 people by MSF union organiser Colenzo Jarrett Thorpe, says Mr Livingstone might use his appearance on the programme on Thursday to announce plans to run as an independent in the mayoral contest.

Ken is now becoming a gang of one - I am the Labour candidate

Frank Dobson
And the message goes on: "It is therefore vital that we have sound voices in the audience to counter this and ensure that you generally clap, cheer and jeer in the right points."

It also urges recipients to e-mail Mr Livingstone "to tell him to stay on board" in the Labour Party.

A spokeswoman for Mr Dobson's campaign said the e-mail had no connection to the campaign team.

She told BBC News Online: "What individual people do with their e-mail systems is not within our control. We would not wish to encourage anyone to organise something of that nature."

'Get behind Frank'

Colenzo Jarrett Thorpe said the move was not anti-Livingstone.

He said: "I am just a Frank Dobson supporter. He is the candidate and Ken should not stand against the Labour candidate.

Frank Dobson: Livingstone is "gang of one"
"The selection is finished and Frank won the selection and all members of the Labour Party should get behind him.

"The most important thing is making sure Frank Dobson becomes mayor of London. If Ken had won the selection I would have backed him."

A BBC spokesman said the programme would be impossible to rig because audiences are carefully selected to ensure a balance, not only politically, but also in terms of sex, age, occupation and other factors.

He said: "There are safeguards in place to make sure the audience cannot be infiltrated by groups seeking to skew the way the programme is run."

Campaign office

Mr Livingstone has already said that he will wait for a fortnight before announcing his intentions for the mayoral contest.

With two Labour MPs backing him, he is still calling on Mr Dobson to pull out of the race - but on Wednesday, Mr Dobson, opening his new campaign office, dismissed the suggestion.

He said: "Ken is now becoming a gang of one - I am the Labour candidate. I am going round London meeting Londoners spelling out what I can do to reduce crime and disorder, to rebuild and modernise the transport system and to get more jobs into this city of ours.

"What other candidates or potential candidates do is entirely up to them."

Mr Livingstone has signalled he will wait for two weeks before deciding whether to declare as an independent candidate.

He does not have to announce his candidacy until the deadline for mayoral nominations on 3 April.

But Labour is now working on the assumption that he is on course to break away.

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See also:

01 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Livingstone delays mayor decision
29 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Labour MP breaks ranks over Dobson
29 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Ministers cave in over London mailshot
28 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Livingstone keeps London guessing
27 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Prescott: 'Back off, Ken'
23 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Labour piles pressure on Livingstone
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