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The BBC's Robin Oakley reports
"Mr Blair was forced to use the dread words Ken and Livingstone"
 real 28k

The BBC's Guto Harri
"Labour are desperate to put arguments over process behind them"
 real 28k

Frank S. Dobson
"I don't believe in the post at all"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 18:26 GMT
PM rallies behind Dobson
Frank Dobson
Frank Dobson: "I am the underdog"
Prime Minister Tony Blair has underlined his support for Labour's London mayoral candidate Frank Dobson.

Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Blair said that Mr Dobson would win May's election despite left-winger Ken Livingstone's decision to stand as an independent.

But at the same time Mr Blair acknowledged he and his deputy, John Prescott, were at odds on whether to have directly elected mayors.

London Mayor
During the debate, Tory leader William Hague suggested "ballot rigging" had gone up "100%" in the capital while Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said "far from the prime minister being a control freak, he is a control failure".

Mr Kennedy went on to ask Mr Blair who he would be giving his second vote to in the election ballot.

"As I'm confident we will be winning this campaign I don't have to give a second vote to anybody," responded Mr Blair.

'Breathtaking arrogance'

Mr Blair told MPs he believed a directly elected mayor was the "right course" for London, and said that he took responsibility for its innovation.

He said Mr Prescott, who was reported to be "not a fan" of the policy, was entitled to have his own view.

The prime minister was responding to an attack from Mr Hague who alleged the selection procedures used by Labour had been "rigged, manipulated and dictated from 10 Downing St."

Mr Hague accused Mr Blair of "breathtaking arrogance" and "creating a rotten political culture of cronyism and rigging."

In a separate development, Labour MP Austin Mitchell criticised his party's campaign against Ken Livingstone, saying that Londoners deserve better.

Writing for BBC News Online, Mr Mitchell describes the party's handling of the mayoral contest as a "disgrace" and that Labour's leaders should "learn to love devolution."

Ken Livingstone: Taking the lead
But Mr Mitchell said that Mr Livingstone had been a "good comrade" and an "asset to the party" who had "served this party well and been in it longer than some of our leaders and the retreads from the SDP who advise them".

Dennis Canavan, the independent MP for Falkirk West who was expelled from the Labour Party, has also given Mr Livingstone his backing.

In an open letter, Mr Canavan said: "You were stitched up, Ken, and your campaign will help to expose a scandalous selection system which has brought the party into disrepute ...

"I think you will win because the people of London can smell the stench of corruption about New Labour's selection system."

Dennis Canavan: "Stitch up"
Earlier at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Mr Dobson admitted he is now the "underdog" in the contest.

A Labour spokesman said Mr Dobson told MPs: "All along since October I have been the underdog and I am certainly the underdog at the moment.

"But I am also convinced that the policies I am putting forward with your support would be good for London. By the time we get to May 4, Londoners will actually be deciding what is important and what is fantasy about the future of London and the future for their children and I will get their support.

"We will get a Labour mayor."

He addressed Labour MPs after unveiling plans of how he would create 100,000 jobs in London over four years.

His proposals include asking major firms to contribute the expertise of senior executives to the Greater London Assembly and ensuring that the London Development Agency is staffed by "serious entrepreneurs".

Mr Dobson's news conference came as a second Frank Dobson - a retired publisher from Surrey - entered the race to become mayor.

The Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer has been campaigning at the Millennium Dome while Tory Steve Norris has flown to the south of France to press London's case to property developers at an international conference.

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See also:

08 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Vote for me, says Frank S Dobson
07 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Mayor candidates line up for debate
06 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Livingstone to run for mayor
06 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Blair's mayor crisis
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