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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 22:28 GMT 23:28 UK
Mayor Ken's big tent
Mayor Ken Livingstone with GLA members on Monday
By BBC News Online's Nyta Mann

Untypically for coalition negotiations, though more typical of London's new mayor, Ken Livingstone's job offers to Labour members of the Greater London Assembly were made in public.

As one Labour assembly member complained: "The first we heard about it was from the TV news. This isn't how you conduct these kind of talks."


If we go in with Ken, yes we will support him. But it may be not unlike the way a rope supports a hanged man

Labour GLA member
Maybe Mr Livingstone's declaration at his first news conference as mayor-elect that he intended the "sterile politics of Westminster" to have no place in his administration ought to have prepared them.

But the megaphone diplomacy with which he offered Nicky Gavron the job of deputy mayor and Toby (Lord) Harris the chairmanship of the Metropolitan Police Authority caught Labour on the back foot again.

Labour does not want to be bound into a Livingstone administration when it wants to reserve the option of one day saying "I told you so" to the voters who insisted on making him mayor.

But after the party's failed shambles of an effort to derail his mayoral bandwagon, the last thing it wants is to appear more interested in watching him fail than helping him succeed.

Nicky Gavron: Politically astute choice for deputy
So rejecting the offer of senior posts, at least without a decent interval having first passed, was never an option.

Accepting them with conditions publicly attached was always what the nine-strong Labour group was most likely to do.

And so Ms Gavron's eventual Yes to the deputyship came only after the mayor agreed to set up an independent panel of experts to examine how best to fund London Underground.

First choice for Number Two

It was an astute move on Mr Livingstone's part to make Ms Gavron his first choice for the Number Two slot.

The millionaire GLA member for Enfield & Haringey is well known in London Labour circles, having been a councillor for years and appointed to a range of quangos in the capital. Her record on green issues has also impressed the environmental lobby.

More important politically for Mr Livingstone, she has herself backed car tolls and congestion charges in the past - an issue Labour and the Tories opposed him on.

The four-strong Liberal Democrat group, more attuned to exercising power through coalition, gave it a day and a half before Lord Tope turned down the invitation to head the authority's fire and civil defence committee - seen by some as the equivalent of being paper clips monitor.

The Lib Dems are instead angling for something more prominent, connected to party themes of social justice, equality and the environment.

The latter portfolio has already gone to the Green's Darren Johnson - a pre-election pledge by Mr Livingstone.

Even a genuine belief among the Lib Dems that they deserve to have been offered a greater role did not save Lord Tope from appearing churlish in his refusal to take it for want of something better.

But the agreement - or carve-up, as the Tories see it - between Labour and Lib Dem GLA members to vote the former's Trevor Phillips and the latter's Sally (Baroness) Hamwee as alternating chair and deputy chair of the assembly will give the party more of a high-profile position.

Tories gear up to oppose

Green Darren Johnson: Environment portfolio
As for the nine-strong Conservative group, it looks to be shaping up for opposition.

Despite a request from Mr Livingstone to all the parties that they nominate someone to the mayor's cabinet, that he did not ask the Tories to take a specific post rankled.

"We weren't offered a job despite winning the election," said Roger Evans, Tory assembly member for Havering & Redbridge.

The party is also preparing to do battle over congestion charges. Since both the Labour and Conservative manifestos opposed the plans, the mathematics of the 25-member assembly could block them.

The Tories may also decide that there is more political benefit to be had in opposition rather than coalition.

New Labour Livingstone-style

That calculation would have been much harder for Labour to make.

Coalition politics, all parties invited on board, a leader divorced from party asking for tribal loyalties to be cast aside for the good of the citizenry - these are key tenets of Blairite New Labour, only it is left-winger Ken Livingstone putting them into practice.

Precisely because they are much-vaunted New Labour values, it would have been difficult for the party's assembly members to credibly refuse to serve under him.

No less a figure than Tony Blair warned that Mr Livingstone would be a "disaster" for London. A successful administration would prove the prime minister wrong; but an administration that succeeds with Labour help would allow credit to be claimed.

So despite the misgivings, Labour has decided to venture inside Mayor Livingstone's big tent rather than sulk outside it.

But to see this as a grand rapprochement between the party and the former member who committed the offence of standing against its official candidate and - even worse - beating him, would be premature.

"We want the assembly to work, we want to co-operate but we don't want to be implicated," according to one Labour GLA member.

"So if we go in with Ken, yes we will support him. But it may be not unlike the way a rope supports a hanged man."

See also:

11 May 00 | UK Politics
09 May 00 | UK Politics
08 May 00 | UK Politics
06 May 00 | UK Politics
05 May 00 | UK Politics
05 May 00 | London Mayor
04 Apr 00 | London Mayor
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