To avoid another debacle, Labour must let Mr Livingstone stand

The current uncertainty illustrates that the high-water mark of `control freakery' has passed

THE NEW Labour high command has been thrown into an unaccustomed tizzy over what the heck to do with Ken Livingstone. So much for the image of control freaks clicking their manipulative fingers and watching while all the political pieces fall neatly into place. In the case of Livingstone and the contest for London's mayor, they do not know what to do. Should they block him from putting his name forward? Can they find someone who will beat him and, crucially, go on to win the election against the Conservatives?

The indecision is, itself, a sign of how the political situation has changed since the heady days of the 1997 general election victory. When Livingstone first expressed an interest in standing, there was no doubt in the leadership's mind. I know of one leading Blairite councillor who was told by the PM himself that Livingstone would be blocked. The current uncertainty illustrates that the high-water mark of instinctive "control freakery" has passed, as it was always destined to do.

All prime ministers are control freaks when they are able to get away with it. Not surprisingly, Blair was able to do so when he was riding high after a landslide victory. John Major would have been a control freak if he had won a three-figure majority in 1992. He tried to be one at times, anyway, but was never any good at it. After the recent elections and the row in Wales over the election of Alun Michael, the situation has changed for Blair as well. In my view he would be making a big political error if he stopped Livingstone from throwing his hat into the ring.

This is not just for the obvious reason that an almighty political row would ensue, although that would be damaging enough. As the Welsh Minister, Peter Hain, told me recently, the perception of control freakery in Wales had "damaged the Labour Party, damaged Alun Michael and damaged Tony Blair". He was speaking before Labour's latest wretched performance in the European elections in Wales, where Plaid Cymru has emerged as an alternative centre- left party for Labour voters who can be bothered to go to a polling station.

Another, more subtle message came out from these midsummer polls. Labour's success in the elections to the Scottish Parliament has been obscured by the dismal results that followed. Yet earlier in the year it was these that seemed to have the most potential for wreaking havoc. Instead, Gordon Brown and his entourage headed north and turned the campaign around. Every SNP statement and interview was challenged. Labour's daily news conferences had clear messages each morning, which were pursued relentlessly for the rest of the day. In other words, Labour fought an election campaign with leading politicians who were genuinely committed to winning in Scotland and had a genuine passion for the Scottish Parliament. The subliminal message was clear: Labour cared about Scotland.

The message conveyed in Wales was different. The leadership gave the impression that victory was taken for granted, and its main priority was to impose a leader. In the European election campaign, the leadership had no clear message and no one especially keen to espouse the ill-defined cause. Voters are not daft. Instinctively indifferent, they can pick up the signals when politicians appear indifferent too.

So the challenge for the Labour leadership over the next 12 months is to show that it cares as passionately about London as it did in the elections in Scotland. This cause would not be helped by ditching Livingstone, who was, after all, the last person to lead an elected London authority and has been a London MP since 1987. The fatal subliminal message of such a brutal act would be: "We don't care so much about London, but we are bothered about who will give us least difficulty as mayor." We shall be back on that familiar Welsh territory again.

This means also that the leadership needs to reflect carefully on who it chooses to fight Livingstone. The Health Secretary, Frank Dobson, is favoured by some in Downing Street, although Blair has never discussed the issue with him. There is a problem, though. Dobson does not want the job. As for Mo Mowlam, she demonstrated her lack of enthusiasm by attending the book launch for Livingstone's biography. This was hardly the aggressive opening act in a mayoral leadership contest. Symbolic acts apart, I can report unequivocally that she does not want the job either.

What is more, the recent Tory success in the European elections makes it even more unlikely that a Cabinet star can be persuaded to stand. They would have not only to resign as cabinet minister, but also give up their seat in the Commons. If they were to beat Livingstone, which would be far from guaranteed, they would face a possible close contest against the Tory candidate. If they lost that, their political career would be over. Is this the "reward" Blair will offer Mowlam for arduous service in Northern Ireland? But, more important, it is that damaging subliminal message again: "We think Londoners can be bought off by a whiff of political charisma from a candidate chosen by the leadership who did not want to stand."

The mayoral contest next May will probably be closer than the Labour leadership thought likely a few weeks ago. This is not just because the Tories are more self-confident now. London has received much less attention from the Government than Scotland, although more voters live and work in the city. In a depressing Commons debate on the London Underground this week, John Redwood revealed that "before May 1997 a Tube train broke down once every 21 minutes... after nearly two years of New Labour, a Tube train breaks down every 16 minutes". What a Tory slogan: "Vote Tory and only three Tube trains an hour will break down." But Labour's response to the appalling state of the Underground has been far too slovenly. It has consisted of an inadequate injection of short-term cash and a still embryonic public/ private finance arrangement that will be handed over to a mayor who will then have no powers to change it. A Labour candidate will require near-magical persuasive powers to defend that record.

That candidate may not be Livingstone, even if he is allowed to put his name forward. Another potential candidate who would send a message that Labour cared about London is Nick Raynsford, the ministerial architect of the new London authority. There could be no doubting his commitment to the whole idea. I suspect that he would give Livingstone a run for his money, more so than the other declared candidate, Trevor Phillips. Apparently Raynsford is doomed for lack of charisma. But all the possible internal candidates have their flaws.

The Labour leadership should allow them to stand, then sit back and see what happens. For once, they do not have a choice; any other course of action would be much worse.

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral