Livingstone hit by pounds 1m limit on poll spending

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The Independent Online
KEN LIVINGSTONE'S chances of becoming London mayor were dealt a fresh blow yesterday with the news that the Government is proposing to allow each candidate to spend nearly pounds 1m on their election campaign.

The generous spending cap will benefit bigger parties and Mr Livingstone would have a clear disadvantage if he decided to run as an independent.

But Frank Dobson, the Government's preferred choice of Labour candidate, would benefit hugely, because his party would most likely be able to raise the maximum of pounds 990,000 for his campaign.

Although members of the London Labour Party are yet to make their final decision over their official candidate, ministers are hopeful that the "stitch-up" of the electoral college, consisting of MPs, trade unions and ordinary members, will ensure that Mr Livingstone will not be elected.

But Government insiders fear that Mr Livingstone will run as an independent candidate if he is not elected, on the grounds that the selection process has been unfair to him and because he still enjoys massive popular support.

In a letter leaked to The Independent, Keith Hill, the minister for London, said the proposals were in line with the Neill Committee's report on funding of political parties. "We have set the mayoral limit at a level that takes account of the size of the electorate," he said.

Mr Hill has also decided that candidates will not be allowed to use Freepost, another setback for any campaign by an independent candidate or any of the smaller parties.

Susan Kramer, the Liberal Democrat candidate for London mayor, said Labour had put a "For Sale sign" on next May's election. "Only buyers with pounds 1m need apply. The combination of no Freepost... and permission to spend up to pounds 1m threatens democracy in this election," she said.