Monitor: Labour and Ken Livingstone, Millbank's long-running farce
All the News of the World
Saturday 20 November 1999
THE MAYORAL saga thus far has been a political shambles for both major parties. Labour has now taken belated action to save its London party from outright ridicule and shame. Blair's high-profile assault is risky, and could well backfire. The battle for the Labour nomination now promises to be ruthless, bitter, exciting and embarrassing to the party. We have campaigned fiercely for Mr Livingstone to be allowed to stand. But we share Mr Blair's view that it is strongly in the interests of every Londoner that he should not become Mayor.
The Daily Telegraph
THE DEEPER significance of the Livingstone phenomenon, though, is its impact on the Prime Minister's prestige. His machine can function only for as long as it is feared. One of the few figures in the Parliamentary Labour Party who owes nothing to Mr Blair has thrown down a challenge to his entire project. Mr Blair has picked up Mr Livingstone's gauntlet. The prize is the office of London's first elected mayor, Labour's hold on the capital and the mystique of Blairite invincibility. For when a Prime Minister is tired of London, he is tired of life in Downing Street.
THE LATEST manifestation of the surprising incompetence of the Blair- Mandelson axis when it comes to political manipulation has been their campaign to discredit, sabotage or blackmail Ken Livingstone. But how on earth could a lone political eccentric hope to win an enormous contest for London's five million voters against the awesome, determined and ruthless political machine that is New Labour? Suffice it to say for the moment that his most controversial plans, relating to the transport system, seem to make excellent sense. But sensible as his policies are, it is Mr Livingstone's political personality that really inspires support. The Labour machine may try to present him as an impractical dreamer or a dangerous political extremist. But, even though there is some truth in both accusations, neither image seems likely to stick. (Anatole Kaletsky)
SO MUCH for New Labour's supposed mastery of the political arts. The demeaning shambles over the race to become Mayor of London reveals farcical depths of ineptitude, clumsiness and contempt for the norms of democracy. How spectacularly the party's policy has backfired. It is a shameful negation of democracy when Labour rigs its selection process in an attempt to keep him out. The Prime Minister has been left looking very foolish. He should have a care. Voters are becoming increasingly uneasy over his Government's obsession with autocratic control. And with a Labour Party that seems to have no room for anybody but toadies and puppets.
IN ALL this, Mr Blair revealed an arrogance which threatened the very democratic process he claimed to defend. We doubt we have seen the last of such attempts at manipulation but, having had their fingers burned once, Downing Street and Millbank won't be so quick to try it again. Rank and file party members in the capital must be as sick as we are of this behaviour and should choose the one person who has consistently refused to be cowed by Blair's bullies - Mr Livingstone. Only then can democracy be said to have won the day.
WHATEVER HAPPENS next, Mr Blair's management of the mayor's election has already become an otherwise sure-footed prime minister's biggest mistake to date. Labour's desperate gerrymandering makes the Conservatives' simple decision to let their own London members decide whether they wanted the roguish Lord Archer as their candidate look admirable by comparison. As the capital's elected mayor, he would probably become a thorn in Mr Blair's side. It would seem inconceivable to any prime minister that such a man should be given such a job just because he was a Labour MP and London's voters wanted him to do it. Inconceivable, that is, except to a prime minister who really believed in the devolution of power, the revival of local democracy and all the rest. (Bagehot)
THE DECISION to delay the choice of candidate is another bungle. It could perhaps help Frank Dobson to dig himself out of trouble. And it might leave Mr Livingstone too little time, if Labour rejects him, to run as an independent. However, what it will certainly do is keep Labour's runners fighting each other for a further three months when the party should be turning the heat on the Tories. What a disaster! And one incontrovertibly built round the leadership's wish to assign a Labour mayor an undesirably subordinate role. That is surely not what executive mayors are for, as Londoners, through all these shenanigans, are certainly coming to appreciate.
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