Labour may ban Livingstone from race to be mayor

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The Independent Online
KEN LIVINGSTONE may be banned from standing as Labour's candidate for the mayor of London amid growing alarm in the party leadership that he will defeat Frank Dobson, the candidate favoured by Tony Blair.

Senior figures at Downing Street are urging that Mr Livingstone's bid should be blocked when he is interviewed by a Labour Party selection panel later this month.

It was widely assumed the left-winger would be allowed to stand in Labour's selection contest when the party announced its candidate would be chosen by an electoral college, giving one-third of the votes to trade unions; one-third to party members in London; and one-third to MPs, Euro MPs and London assembly candidates.

But opinion in the Labour leadership has hardened against Mr Livingstone. "It would be better to have four months of grief in the party than four years of hell with Ken as mayor," one Downing Street insider said yesterday.

However, some Labour officials are warning that blocking Mr Livingstone would provoke an exodus by furious party members in London and would damage the morale of Labour activists throughout the country. Officials are worried that Mr Livingstone would stand as an independent if he is vetoed, despite his denials. Opinion polls suggest he could then defeat Mr Dobson and Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, the Tory candidate.

"There is an intense debate going on about what do to," one minister admitted last night. "Blocking Ken would send the right signal to the voters but a terrible one to the party." Officials at Labour's headquarters denied any split between them and Downing Street and suggested Mr Livingstone's fate would depend on his performance before the panel.

Mr Blair hinted at his own private views when he endorsed Mr Dobson last week, saying he would "never, ever" allow Labour to return to the chaos and disunity of the early 1980s.

His remarks about the Livingstone era at the Greater London Council were interpreted as a clear message that he was determined to ensure a New Labour shortlist for the mayoralty.

If Mr Livingstone were to be blocked, the battle for the Labour nomination would be between Mr Dobson and Glenda Jackson. An advertisement by the Livingstone campaign, which included an unflattering photograph of Mr Dobson, has infuriated both Downing Street and Millbank.

The advert will be added to a "disloyalty dossier" of evidence on the former GLC leader that is being compiled at Millbank for the selection panel. The dossier lists comments by the Brent East MP on everything from his lack of support for a directly elected mayor to his calls for Gordon Brown to resign as Chancellor.

Senior members of the Greater London Labour Party, including its chairman, Jim Fitzpatrick, have repeatedly gone on the record to criticise Mr Livingstone.

In an attempt to limit allegations of a "stitch-up" and a future legal challenge, Mr Livingstone is likely to be invited for an interview when the panel meets on 16 November. He could then be excluded from the shortlist that will be announced immediately after the interviews.

Although Millbank officials insist there are no "elephant traps" in the selection criteria for candidates, the selection panel is heavily packed with Blairites with a record of opposition to Mr Livingstone.

The panel consists of 13 members, five from the elected London Regional Board, four from the NEC and four "independent" members. They include Clive Soley, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Crucially Ian McCartney, the Cabinet Office Minister and the Government's main link to Millbank, and Mr Fitzpatrick have been added to the panel.