Leading article: London just wants someone who will stand up and shout

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The Independent Culture
A SELECTION board will today draw up the shortlist of candidates for the Labour candidate for mayor of London. Whatever the result, it can only emphasise the absurdity of the control-freakery that has surrounded this whole affair. If Mr Livingstone is not on the list, it will show the bizarre lengths to which the Labour leadership is ready to go, in preventing party members from making up their own minds. If, as expected, Mr Livingstone's name is on the list, that cave-in will illustrate the fear felt by the Millbank machine of the public support generated for the renegade.

Because of the political shenanigans, the real issues have been largely obscured. A little bit of glasnost would have gone a long way, in this respect. All the rows about personality and political heritage - and the dubious use by Frank Dobson's campaign team of internal Labour mailing- lists - have been more dominant, in reporting the race, than the policies that Mr Dobson, Mr Livingstone and others may seek to introduce. The failure to report fully on the candidates' respective policies can be seen partly as a failure of the media. Above all, however, it is Downing Street that has ensured that the spotlight has remained so firmly on Mr Livingstone. It need not have been this way.

The powers of the mayor will be more limited than those of the mayor of (say) New York. None the less, this will be a high-profile political platform both in Britain and on the world stage. The mayor will play a key role in the referendum campaign on joining the euro, and in the debate on the potentially difficult relationship between the rich and powerful metropolis and other parts of the UK; a slanging-match on economic issues between, say, London and Scotland would be to nobody's advantage.

Mr Blair insists he will "never, ever let the party go back to the Eighties". But the mayor will have a political life of his or her own. Margaret Thatcher famously loathed Mr Livingstone's Greater London Council because the elected authority was an alternative source of power to her own; Mr Blair appears to hate the prospect of a Livingstone-led London for the same reason.

A little bit more sang-froid would not go amiss. Londoners have no reason to vote for an extremist, or for one who is all show and no substance. They just want someone strong enough to stand up and shout for their city. Once the spin-meisters are out of the way, voters will finally take decisions - including, perhaps, voting for Mr Livingstone. If there are shocks in store, Mr Blair has only himself to blame.

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