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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
Labour chief says sorry over mayor
Frank Dobson: Came third in the mayoral race
Labour Party general secretary Margaret McDonagh has said she is sorry Labour lost last week's election for mayor of London.

She said despite Labour's dismal showing at the polls, the party had been better served by Frank Dobson as its losing candidate than Ken Livingstone as a victorious one.

Mr Dobson, the former health secretary, came third in the poll won by the independent candidate.

And Ms McDonagh insisted the party had acted out of "principle" in ensuring that Mr Dobson, nor Mr Livingstone, was its candidate.

Margaret McDonagh: Did "the principled thing"
She was speaking to the New Statesman as independent MP Martin Bell revealed he had been approached by Labour to stand as the party's mayoral candidate.

And the party has come under pressure from a group of Labour backbenchers to speedily readmit the expelled Mr Livingstone to the party.

Millbank officials attracted criticism from Mr Dobson during the campaign for their handling of the process of selecting the Labour candidate, which the former minister said damaged his chances.

In the interview Ms McDonagh agreed with that assessment and said in future the party should decide long before an election how it would choose its candidate in order to avoid harming them.

"Discussing the selection process at the same time as the candidates started their campaigns was very damaging for Frank Dobson. No candidate must ever be put in that position again."

Ms McDonagh said she was "genuinely comfortable" with the electoral college system used to select Labour's mayoral candidate.

In future elections, though, she said party members should decide whether to use an electoral college or a one-member-one-vote poll.

Ms McDonagh said: "I am sorry Labour didn't win ... I am sorry that the process impinged on the selection.

"I will do my utmost to make sure it does not happen again.

"Sometimes Labour is accused of being focus group-orientated, always doing the popular thing rather than the principled thing. Here it did the principled thing in selecting Frank.

Martin Bell: Approached early last year
"It would have been the easiest thing in the world to do a short-term fix and to have voted for Ken.

"The best outcome would have been a Dobson victory. But it is better that Livingstone won as an independent than as Labour's official candidate."

Labour asked me - Martin Bell

Meanwhile former BBC war correspondent Mr Bell revealed that he received an approach from Labour about running for London mayor.

The independent MP for Tatton said: "I don't belong to any party and I am not a London person. I really am fully committed to my present job and I have no interest in doing another one."

Mr Bell would not disclose who made the approach, simply describing the person concerned as a friend. He said that he was unclear whether it had been officially sanctioned.

"I don't know if he was serious. Because I said 'No', I never found out," he said.

A senior Labour spokesman insisted that any approach to Mr Bell would have been made in a private capacity and did not have the backing of the party hierarchy.

See also:

05 May 00 | London Mayor
05 May 00 | UK Politics
06 May 00 | UK Politics
09 May 00 | UK Politics
10 May 00 | UK Politics
11 May 00 | UK Politics
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