So why do you want to be a mayor, Mr Dobson?
`The selection panel will be daft, so the candidates should tell the same lies as anyone going for a job'
Columnist of the Year 2015, Mark Steel, is Commentator and stand-up comedian who has presented several radio and television programmes, and appeared on Have I Got News for You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. In 2006 he published 'Vive La Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution', and in 2000 stood as a candidate in the London Assembly elections.
Tuesday 16 November 1999
The Labour selection panel will be just as daft, so the candidates might as well tell the same sort of lies as anyone going for a job. For example, patching over periods of your life you don't want a panel to know about by making up something that can't be checked. On his CV, Ken Livingstone should leave a gap between 1981 and 1986. If the panel ask what he was doing during these years, he should say he was hitch-hiking round South America. Or working as a nanny in Queensland.
Why are they even bothering to interview Frank Dobson? Obviously he'll be selected, even if he barges in an hour late and bellows: "Sorry about that, dodgy curry last night, I wouldn't go in that khazi for a while if I was you. Here, Baroness Whatsyername, you're looking more gorgeous than ever. If you looked any younger, you'd have Gary Glitter after you." Imagine how mad the party hierarchy would have gone, if Livingstone's team had been caught, as Dobson's was, surreptitiously in possession of the entire party membership list for London. But the Dobson team got away with the sort of answer a schoolboy produces when a teacher finds a pile of dirty books in his desk. "Dunno sir," said Frank's helpers. "They weren't there this morning. Maybe they're the caretaker's and he just posted them from my office." If the subject is brought up by the selection panel, Dobson should say: "My mum says I mustn't be asked hard questions as it brings me out in German Measles." That should do it.
Then there are the bizarre statements attempting to paint Dobson as a heroic crusader. Chris Smith, in an article in London's Evening Standard, applauded Frank for campaigning against fascists on the Isle of Dogs, following the election of Nazi Derek Beackon. I know dozens of people who campaigned against Beackon, organising two huge fund-raising events and leafletting. Strangely, not one of us can remember seeing Frank. So he should indeed be applauded, because he's clearly the finest undercover agent in the country, capable of disguising his bulky frame and bushy beard so well that he remains undetected for months at a time.
Even more peculiar, was the initial implication made by Trevor Phillips that Livingstone's offer to him to join the campaign as his running mate had a racist undercurrent, because it suggested black people could only stand for office as junior partner to a white man. Then, days later, Phillips accepted an identical offer from the well-known Rastafarian Frank Dobson.
By the time the selection panel convenes, his mates will be insisting that they refer to him as Frank X. And his next speech will begin: "This proposal on street cleaning is going out to the brothers on the West Side, hoping I can represent them like back in the days when I was Secretary for Health and shit. I'd like to send out respect to my man Jack Straw at the Homie Office. And Ken, don't dis' the privatisation of the Underground man, Railtrack are cool mothers."
The most telling statement of all during the run up to all this came from the unnamed minister who said that keeping Livingstone off the list could be "sold to the voters, but not to the party". Do they think all the polls showing Livingstone way ahead of Dobson are made up? Has Blair convinced his ministers that the fiasco in Wales - when voters responded to the stitch-up of Rhodri Morgan by switching to Plaid Cymru in record numbers - was all a dream? They're in denial, like alcoholics. They need to sit in a circle, then one-by-one stand up and say: "My name's Alistair Darling and most voters prefer Ken to me.
The irony is that Labour members, suffocated by tirades insisting that any flake of radicalism will scare off Middle England, are probably the easiest people to persuade to vote for Dobson. So Livingstone will be allowed to stand, and then pilloried for his mild opposition to Blair. Though, if he somehow wins the nomination, the Labour Party will issue a statement that goes: "Um, tell you what, best of three."
The grapes of wrath, among the voters, will continue to grow.
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