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banner Friday, 5 May, 2000, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Livingstone voters snub Blair

By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

London voters have delivered a massive snub to Tony Blair by backing Ken Livingstone as mayor, according to latest estimates.

A poll by ICM for BBC's Election Night suggests he will win 42% of the first preference vote with Tory Steve Norris gaining 26%.

Labour's Frank Dobson appears to have just beaten Lib Dem candidate Susan Kramer into fourth place with 14% and 11% respectively. The other seven candidates had 7% between them.

Ken Livingstone: Bad news for Tony Blair
After second preference votes of Tory and Liberal Democrats are redistributed Mr Livingstone is expected to win with 50% compared to Mr Norris' 32%.

The result falls short of the majority earlier polls had suggested Mr Livingstone might win and he saw his lead eroded by a late swing towards Mr Norris.

But it was still bad news for Mr Blair who may even see the Tories within an ace of beating Labour in elections to the new London assembly.

According to the poll the Tories are set to win eight seats, Labour nine, the Lib Dems five and the Greens three.

It is the news Mr Blair was bracing himself for after one of the most divisive internal Labour battles for years.

It is also hugely bad news for Labour candidate Frank Dobson and there is a serious question mark over his future.

However, he appears to have avoided a worse defeat by managing to see off a strong challenge from Liberal Democrat contended Susan Kramer.

However, a low turnout suggests voters were turned off by the rows surrounding the campaign and may have lost enthusiasm for the idea of an elected mayor.

Guerilla war

That was likely to have hit Mr Livingstone's vote with suggestions that some of his voters stayed at home.

Mr Blair will now have to live with Mr Livingstone as the capital's boss and is expected to order his members on the assembly not to launch a guerrilla war against Mr Livingstone but cooperate with him.

If the poll reflects the final result it will represent the greatest electoral defeat for Mr Blair since New Labour stormed to victory in the 1997 general election.

It is a huge blow to the prime minister who created the first ever directly elected mayor in the capital - and then found himself battling to stop his "night mayor" candidate winning.

He used every tactic to keep Mr Livingstone off Labour's short list, but could not stop him running as an independent.

His handling of the entire affair has been branded a shambles and has sent ripples throughout the country and the Labour party as a whole.

Voters and party supporters were angered at what many saw as the prime minister's control freakery and seem to have relished the opportunity to deliver a snub to him.

The expected result comes after the prime minister made a personal plea to voters not to back Mr Livingstone but throw their weight behind Mr Dobson. Mayday riots in Whitehall, which many claimed would be a regular occurrence under a Livingstone-ruled London, also appear to have failed to put voters off the former GLC leader.

The predicted outcome is also a verdict on Labour's record in power as it struggles to overcome some of the biggest problems to buffet it since the 1997 election.

The poll suggests a good result for Tory Steve Norris who was never his party's first choice but who, along with the other candidates, will be offered a job by Mr Livingstone.

William Hague's Conservatives suffered their own mayoral crisis when original candidate Lord Archer was forced to quit after confessing to trying to cook up a false alibi for himself during a libel trial 14 years ago.

The Liberal Democrats will have some cause for celebration after Ms Kramer put up a good showing but will be disappointed she did not beat Mr Dobson into fourth place.

The Greens will also be delighted with the projections that they will win three seats on the assembly.

ICM recontacted 1,133 on Thursdaypeople who were first interviewed between 28 April and 3 May. The data have been weighted to the profile of the original sample of 3,000 people who were representative of Londoners as a whole.

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See also:

04 May 00 | UK Politics
Livingstone 'to be mayor'
28 Apr 00 | Local elections
Leaders prepare for polls battle
04 Apr 00 | London Mayor
Labour's search for a candidate
02 May 00 | London Mayor
How the race unfolded....
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