Labour panel will scupper Livingstone

London mayor: Former GLC leader attacks the `Daleks' of Millbank after party machine says candidates will be vetted
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The Independent Online
KEN LIVINGSTONE last night attacked the "Daleks" of Labour's Millbank headquarters after the party backed a selection system designed to kill off his chances of becoming the Mayor for London.

The Brent East MP, and former leader of the Greater London Council, went on the offensive as the London Labour Party voted for a vetting panel to draw up its shortlist of candidates for the job.

The 29-strong board of the London party was expected to approve the proposal that all party members could nominate themselves for the candidacy before going before the special panel. The panel would then draw up a shortlist of about five names that would be sent out to all members in the capital for a one member, one vote ballot.

Other leading contenders in the race for Labour's candidacy include the Sports minister, Tony Banks, the Transport minister, Glenda Jackson, and the Labour leader of the Socialist MEPs, Pauline Green.

The post of Britain's first directly elected mayor, with a mandate of 7m voters, is a key part of the Government's constitutional reforms.

However, party officials are reluctant to allow Mr Livingstone to take on the powerful new role and its pounds 3bn budget and are determined to block him standing for the election in 2000.

The new procedure effectively overrules a system approved this summer by London party activists to allow automatic shortlisting of anyone with the support of more than 10 constituencies. Such a system would almost certainly have guaranteed Mr Livingstone's name would appear on any ballot paper, a risk that his opponents in the party leadership were not prepared to take.

Writing in today's Independent, Mr Livingstone blamed the party's faceless junior spin doctors for the "bandwagon of discontent" over selection rows in Wales, Scotland, the European Parliament and now London.

"Almost all of it would have been avoidable if it were not for the tactics of the Dalek faction of Labour's Millbank Tendency. We have got to get these nutters out," he said. "I wonder if there are some extremists who would rather see Labour lose these elections than fight them with an ideologically impure candidate. Just for their information, I for one will not be exterminated easily."

He said yesterday that he was not some "freak from the fringe" and pointed to his success in getting on to the NEC last year, gaining more rank and file votes than the Trade and Industry Secretary, Peter Mandelson.

Joan Ryan, the MP for Enfield North and a member of the board, admitted that it was "possible" that the system could lead to the barring of Mr Livingstone. "[Mr Livingstone] is a candidate who's constantly argued against the role ever existing and spent the last couple of years ensuring that we don't get to this point," she said.

Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the Commons, said that it was "nonsense" to suggest that Labour was not interested in devolving power to its members. In a pointed reference to Mr Livingstone, she said: "Members don't have to be famous to make good candidates."

A party spokesman said: "This system is not designed to favour any one individual. Equally, it is not designed to block any one individual."

The spokesman added that the selection system proposed for London was entirely in keeping with similar procedures for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and even future MPs. More than 80 per cent of Londoners voted for the creation of a Mayor and Greater London Assembly in a referendum earlier this year.

A bill to set up the new authority is certain to be included in the Queen's Speech later this month.