Comment: The truth about the Blair mayor project and how it is helping Frank Dobson

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY'S Panorama programme "The Blair Mayor Project" was a devastating expose of the campaign to prevent Labour Party members in London from selecting a candidate of their choice for mayor on a level playing field. Indeed, one of the most revealing interviews of the whole 40 minutes was with my old GLC colleague and fellow Brent MP, Paul Boateng, a Home Office minister and now a firm supporter of Frank Dobson. "Politics is about making sure that you have the right processes to arrive at the result that enables you to do a job of work," argued Paul.

The "job of work" in this case is to have a Labour mayor of London who is not either Ken Livingstone or Glenda Jackson. The first members' ballot shows this does not appear to be working. Glenda has not been smashed despite all the resources being poured into Frank's campaign. Tooting Constituency Labour Party announced late on Monday night the results of their poll of members. The results will be sent to their MP, MEPs and GLA candidate, each of whom will cast a block vote around 1,000 times larger than that of an ordinary party member.

I polled 66.4 per cent, compared with 22.9 per cent for Frank Dobson. Glenda Jackson polled 10.6 per cent. This is devastating for the Millbank Tendency's strategy of throwing huge resources behind their candidate. It is a revealing insight into the views of party members even though the Frank Dobson campaign has benefited from full access to membership lists, anti-Livingstone rallies addressed by the Prime Minister, vitriolic campaign leaflets, extending the length of the contest and apparently relaxing the expenditure limits.

Panorama's central charge was that senior officials in Millbank assisted Frank Dobson in obtaining the membership lists of the Greater London Labour Party. I am going to study the transcripts of the Panorama programme carefully, to see whether I should be taking any further steps.

For those not versed in this seemingly arcane dispute, the key issue here is that one candidate has the lists of party members, with their address details, and two do not. By anybody's standards that is a manifestly unfair basis on which to conduct a ballot. It means that Frank is able to organise telephone canvassing on a grand scale. It means that he can continue to direct mail the key electorate while Glenda and I have to rely on the scatter-gun method of sending our literature to constituency secretaries, in the hope that they themselves will then pass it on. This, it hardly needs saying, is totally unsatisfactory.

In response, Millbank has argued that every candidate is entitled to two mailings to the membership, which will be administered centrally by the party. We supply the literature, they send it out. This means that Glenda and I are still unable to obtain names, phone numbers, or addresses of members, so we are still prevented from campaigning on equal terms. It also means that Frank does not need to take advantage of this service, saving him the handling charge of pounds 3,000 for each of the two permitted mailshots. That is to say, because Frank's campaign has the membership lists already, he would save pounds 6,000, or one tenth of the final expenditure limit.

Panorama set itself the task of investigating precisely how this democratic deficit came about. Previously questioned by journalists and party members as to how they obtained the lists, Frank's spokespeople said that they had been passed to them by various sympathetic MPs. This was quickly exposed as false because - among others - both Glenda's constituency members and my own were mailed and telephone polled. The explanation was then refined to include MEPs, who cover the whole of London.

The BBC found that this was a smokescreen. Within days of Frank announcing that he was standing as a Labour candidate, Linda Smith, a political assistant to Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP for London and an active Frank Dobson supporter, asked Millbank for the London membership list. On Claude's behalf, she is alleged to have approached the Members Services Unit in Millbank but was told that the system was busy with other tasks and the request could not therefore be processed in time.

Panorama asserts that Margaret McDonagh - the General Secretary of the Labour Party - was then contacted by another Labour Party official and asked if she could assist in getting the lists more quickly. The request was then expedited, and within 24 hours the discs containing the membership details of the whole of the London Labour Party were in the hands of the Dobson campaign. It is claimed that Claude Moraes never even saw them.

The Labour Party seems remarkably laid back about all this. A spokesman has confirmed to the BBC that Linda Smith did indeed request the lists, and further confirms that a Labour Party official then made an approach to expedite the request. The only bone of contention is that the senior official who was contacted was not Margaret McDonagh - says Millbank - but Jackie Stacey, the General Secretary's Head of Operations and a manager in the Members' Services Unit. Panorama disputes this point.

It really doesn't matter one iota whether it was Margaret or Jackie Stacey or even the caretaker who received the representation and then got the lists via Claude to Frank. Either way, the party's spokesman is conceding that at the highest level of the party a call was made from one official to another to assist one candidate.

This must now stop. Glenda and I must be allowed to campaign on an equal footing with Frank. It is a grotesque distortion of the notion of democracy for one candidate to be able to reach the electorate and the other two be unable to do so on the same basis. It comes close to bringing the Labour Party into disrepute. The General Secretary of our party must take urgent action to resolve the question of the lists.

Margaret McDonagh must allow equal access to the membership lists. Such a simple ruling at the start of this process would have saved an awful lot of angst. It would be a simple step warmly welcomed in the London Labour Party. The Labour Party ought to be having a wonderful time at the expense of William Hague's contortions over Jeffrey Archer and Steven Norris. Instead, we have chosen to remove our keeper from the pitch and presented the Tory party and the media with an open goal.