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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 15:42 GMT
Out of the frying pan

Another fine Labour mess
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

As the race to be London's candidate for mayor turns really nasty it was amusing to be reminded how the mess all started.

Right at the beginning of the affair, the London Labour party held a one-day conference to decide what they thought about Tony Blair's plan for a directly elected mayor - and they didn't like it one little bit.

Apparently they feared the leadership would try and foist some Richard Branson-style celebrity on them when they wanted a proper politician.

The overwhelming feeling was that elections should go ahead for a Greater London Authority and the leader of the majority party should then automatically become the boss of the authority.

London party leader Jim Fitzpatrick - or Fixpatrick as one cruel nickname goes - was having none of that.

No return to GLC
After all, look what happened when the old Greater London Council did the same thing - they ended up with Ken Livingstone.

So, just as the meeting moved to a vote, Mr Fitzpatrick insisted there was no need for one.

The conference had been a very valuable consultation exercise and the leadership would take its views very seriously indeed, he pledged.

But as Ken's camp would now have it, Tony and his mates in Millbank treated the views of the London party in a manner that has since marked the entire campaign - they ignored them.

The leadership failed to find a celebrity to do its bidding, Ken still won the majority of the votes of the electoral college and the rest is history.

The huge irony, of course, is that not a single one of Labour's GLA candidates is supporting Livingstone's possible go-it-alone bid.

Campaigning in the gutter

Meanwhile Frank Dobson's once-famous sense of humour seems to have returned - albeit briefly.

When queuing with other party members outside the Old Vic for the party's centenary celebrations he was accosted by a "gentleman of the gutter".

The man, a carrier bag full of strong lager in one hand, was working the queue for tea money when he suddenly spotted Dobbo.

Frank Dobson: Accosted on the street
In a moment of clarity he stared him straight in the eye and shouted: "I know you".

And before the would-be mayor had a chance to pretend he was someone else, the man unleashed a stream of abuse and obscenities at him before staggering on his way.

Dobbo immediately turned to a colleague and, with a face like a wet bloodhound, declared: "and he is one of my biggest supporters."

Things only got worse, of course. When he got to the front of the queue he discovered he had forgotten his ticket.

There was a fraction of a second when everyone with him held their breath waiting to see whether the doorman would recognise him and let him in. He did.

Maybe Dobbo's luck is finally changing.

Very interesting life

At last, the book we have all been waiting for is about to be published.

Former Conservative Central Office worker and freelance journalist Jo-Anne Nadler is producing a biography of William Hague with the working title: "William Hague: In His Own Right."

The book is being published by Politico's - the splendid political bookshop near Westminster - and should be ready for the Tory party conference this autumn.

Apparently the Tory leader will co-operate with the writer, but there is no intention of turning it into a "Hagueiography".

William Hague: Long and interesting life
Politico's owner Ian Dale told me: "Although he is very young, William Hague has had a very interesting life - particularly his upbringing and his early involvement in politics."

He expects the book to be a frank look at the man and to concentrate particularly on the leadership contest which followed John Major's resignation.

And there is one very good reason to believe the book will not try to do Mr Hague any big favours.

Apparently, the author was one of the many Central Office workers who lost their jobs in the purge which followed Mr Hague's election.

Worse to come

Billericay's famous HRT-driven MP Teresa Gorman has just been suspended from the Commons for a month without pay for failing to properly declare some property interests.

But, during a debate on the punishment, several of her fellow backbenchers leapt to her defence.

Probably the most startling was the intervention by the Commons second wealthiest man - his pal Michael Heseltine being the first - Sir Peter Tapsell.

Sir Peter Tapsell: The cost of maids nowadays
First he pleaded that running overseas property was not as big a money spinner as many might think because you had to take into account the cost of maids and gardeners.

He then went on to describe Mrs Gorman as a "combative and zany lady" and confessed to having known many such ladies in his life and "rather liking them."

But by far the most intriguing comment was about the nature of sleaze in the Commons itself.

"Unfortunately, many of my colleagues - particularly, I am ashamed to say, in my own party - behaved so disgracefully in the previous Parliament that we were inevitably drawn into the present situation.

"There is no reversing that, and it is going to get worse."

Does he know something we don't?

Bleeping for jobs

New Labour's love of the pager is legendary and every MP is expected to wear a "Millbank messenger" so they can receive orders from above at any time of day or night.

But surely things have gone a bit far with Chancellor Gordon Brown's latest suggestion.

He is planning to provide the unemployed with pagers so they can be bleeped with the latest information about job vacancies.

"Presumably the messages will read 'minimum wage job at local slaughterhouse - get on your bike'" quipped one backbencher.

Falling out

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson is famous for bearing grudges and blanking people who have upset him or he no longer deems worthy of his attention.

Peter Mandeslon and Mo Mowlam exchange last words
But I was astonished to learn of the latest victim of his radio silence.

According to his predecessor, Mo Mowlam, he has not spoken to her since he got her job in Tony Blair's summer re-shuffle.

I can't think what Mo may have done to upset him. After all he did get her job - eventually.

Millbank jokes

Labour's drones in Millbank tower are currently spending much of their time trying to dream up anti-Livingstone propaganda, jokes and so on.

The latest refers to his plan to finance improvements to the London underground through a bonds issue, rather than the government's part-privatisation.

The teenagers are going around telling people: "Well, you know Ken - his bond is as good as his word."


If you have any political gossip or information on what our MPs are up to, e-mail Nick Assinder (all mails will be treated as confidential).
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