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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
Labour backs candidate reforms
Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) has backed changes to the way the party chooses its mayoral candidates, following the shambolic selection process for London which culminated in Ken Livingstone winning as an independent.
The changes, which will apply to leadership candidates for elections to the Scottish, Welsh and London assemblies, mean the end of the trade union block vote in internal contests to choose a candidate.
Union block votes played a decisive role in handing the party's mayoral nomination to Frank Dobson, despite more people having voted for Mr Livingstone.
Other more controversial plans, to scrap the annual elections to the NEC and to force constituency parties to choose parliamentary candidates only from a centrally pre-approved list, have been delayed in order to hold further consultations.
The NEC agreed on Wednesday that affiliated unions should ballot their members before deciding which candidate to support in contests for the Welsh and Scottish assemblies and for directly-elected mayors.
A union's vote would then be split proportionally between the candidates.
Liz Davies, a member of the left-wing minority Grassroots Alliance group on the committee, welcomed the move.
She said: "This is finally a recognition by Labour's Millbank headquarters of the extreme discontent that there was in Wales and London among party members.
"The Grassroots Alliance has calling for this for well over a year."
Party chiefs also backed down on pushing through other proposals which had threatened to cause a row at Wednesday's meeting.
Plans to abolish the annual elections to the NEC in favour of a poll every two years were put out for further consultation, the committee agreed.
Elections to the NEC's constituency section, in which party members vote for their representatives, have been a regular source of embarrassment to the leadership as the rank and file opted for left-wingers rather than leadership-backed candidates.
Proposals to only allow local parties to choose their parliamentary candidates from centrally approved, pre-vetted list were dropped.
Also dropped were similar plans to extend from two years to four the membership of Labour's National Policy Forum (NPF).
The NPF has taken over from Labour's annual conference as the party's key policy-making forum. Fifty-four of its 175 members are elected by party members.
Critics of the proposals had feared the changes would lead to less say for the membership, and renewed accusations of "control freakery" against the leadership and party managers.
In Wales as well as London party members had backed candidates who lost the nomination contests only because union block votes backed the leadership-approved contenders, Alun Michael and Mr Dobson.
In the capital, Mr Dobson never recovered from being seen as a lame duck candidate. In May's mayoral election he was beaten into a humiliating third place.
Following Mr Livingstone's election as mayor, Labour still faces serious discontent at the party grassroots, where there is a strong wish for the Brent East MP to have his membership restored.
He was expelled from the party for a minimum of five years for standing against its official candidate.
In Wales, Mr Michael suffered from a lack of grassroots support and was eventually replaced as first secretary by Rhodri Morgan - the membership favourite he beat to the nomination.
In a recently leaked memo Prime Minister Tony Blair's personal polling guru, Philip Gould, said the London selection procedure had been associated by the public with an "apparent lack of integrity" by the party.
The proposed change will be put to the party conference next year. If approved there, it will come into effect in the year 2002.
The NEC meeting also heard from Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who said the party was in a much better position to win a second term than any previous Labour government had been.
Mr Prescott echoed the prime minister's recent statements that Labour should not be distracted by "froth".
Instead of arguing about cuts, as previous Labour administrations had been forced to do, this government was talking about how to distribute the benefits of a strong economy, he said.
This point was supported by Mr Blair, who said Labour had a "stronger story to tell" than before the 1997 election.
He said there were clear dividing lines between Labour and the Tories, who would make big spending cuts in health and education.
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