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Ken Livingstone

After narrowly losing the Labour nomination to Frank Dobson in February Ken Livingstone hesitated for just over two weeks - “listening to London” - before making the leap to stand as an independent.

As well as taking soundings from Londoners, the Brent East MP closely examined the opinion polls, which have consistently suggested he is capable of winning the mayoralty on his own.

Livingstone said the decision to stand independently after having publicly promised not to was the hardest of his political life - but he added that he had decided to stand because of the "principle of London's right to govern itself".

He said that Labour’s controversial electoral college system had delivered a “tainted” victory to the prime minister’s preferred candidate.

Labour had urged Mr Livingstone to throw his support behind Dobson’s candidacy.

Now that the popular left-winger has decided not to, the party will do everything possible to prevent a Livingstone victory. There is no doubt he will face a rough, personalised campaign.

A skilled media performer and campaigner, Mr Livingstone's popularity stems at least partly from his rebel status. Margaret Thatcher hated him so much that in 1986 she abolished the Greater London Council which he headed. Tony Blair does not apear to like him much better.

Throughout the Labour mayoral race, his key policy difference with the party hierarchy was over the future shape of funding the London Underground.

Mr Livingstone favours a bond issue rather than John Prescott's partial sell-off.

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