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BBC political editor Robin Oakley
"Mr Livingstone certainly won the loudest cheers"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 16:40 GMT
Mayor candidates line up for debate

Mayoral candidates line up for the hustings
Ken Livingstone has told how he received the official letter from Labour suspending him from the party after 31 years of membership.

London Mayor
Speaking at a hustings meeting at the London School of Economics on Tuesday, Mr Livingstone told the audience he had received confirmation he is now suspended from the Labour Party in the morning's post.

"For the first time in 31 years I am here above party politics," he told the audience, which greeted him with loud cheers.

He described Labour's selection process as a "fiasco" but said despite his decision to stand as an independent, he would campaign for Labour at the next general election.

Mr Livingstone has received an early boost with an ICM survey carried out for The Guardian newspaper suggested Mr Livingstone had the support of 68% of Londoners, compared to 13% for the official Labour candidate Frank Dobson.

ICM/Guardian Poll
Livingstone - 68%
Dobson - 13%
Norris - 11%
Kramer - 6%
The former leader of the Greater London Council said there is no "fundamental schism" between himself and Prime Minister Tony Blair and added: "I don't want to see the government fall."

Mr Dobson said he had been confident that had Labour's candidate been selected on the one member one vote principle, he would still be the party's choice.

The former health secretary, described by the prime minister's spokesman as the underdog in the race, received a mixed response from the audience, ranging from "ahhhs" to booing.

Frank Dobson: The new underdog?
Mr Dobson said Mr Livingstone's warm words towards Labour reminded him of those spoken at hustings when the Brent East MP said he would not stand as an independent if defeated.

He continued: "The reason Ken wasn't selected by the electoral college was because out of the 57 Labour MPs in London, he could only get the votes of 10 besides himself.

"He could not get the vote of a single one of the Labour nominees for the London assembly.

"What that shows is that the people who knew him best trusted him least to deliver on reducing crime, improving the transport system and securing more jobs for London."

Asked if Labour MPs had backed him only because they feared for their position, he replied: "All ten who voted for Ken have already said they are supporting me, some of them rather vehemently because they believed him (Mr Livingstone) when he said he wouldn't go separate.

"And the other thing is to suggest that they all voted for me because they were trying to further their careers, I don't think Bernie Grant was trying to further his career by going for me, I think he thought I was the best candidate."

Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer said the public, once enthusiastic for a mayor, had now become cynical and the contest had the potential to make London into a laughing stock.

'Cloud cuckoo land'

When the debate turned to the issue of public transport, she criticised the fare's fair policy pioneered by Mr Livingstone at the GLC as the "beginning of the end of investment in the Tube."

Ken Livingstone: Greeted by cheers
On financing the Tube, Mr Dobson said he believed different types of finance would be used for different schemes and it was unusual for a Liberal candidate to rule out other options "on ideological grounds".

Standing in for Tory candidate Steve Norris, transport spokesman Bernard Jenkin said policies were irrelevant as the government would decide the Tube's future.

"All you candidates are living in cloud cuckoo land, pretending you're going to fix the Tube when Mr Blair has already fixed you."

Mr Jenkin also dismissed the candidates' efforts to answer a question on tuition fees, saying the mayor had nothing "whatsoever to do with student fees."

He continued: "Are you going to elect someone who won't support the policy but will support terrorists, who won't support commuters, but will support the unions, who won't support the police but will support rioters?"

Mr Livingstone remarked: "I don't think that any of that was directed to me."

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See also:

06 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Life beyond Labour
06 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
The battle for ahead for Livingstone
06 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
'Duty to London' calls for Ken
06 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Livingstone to run for mayor
06 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Blair's mayor crisis
06 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Ken Livingstone: Rebel with a cause
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