NEC ends secret vote in mayoral selection

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR was accused of "nobbling" Ken Livingstone's bid to become Mayor of London yesterday, after it emerged that Labour MPs will be denied a secret ballot in the party's selection contest.

Labour's ruling National Executive Committee has decided to record their votes and those who had hoped to vote for Mr Livingstone or Glenda Jackson will now face intense pressure to follow the Prime Minister's advice and back Frank Dobson instead. Mr Dobson already has overwhelming support in the MPs, MEPs and Greater London Assembly candidates section of the three-tier electoral college drawn up for the contest. Party research estimates that Mr Dobson will win 47 out of the 57 London MPs, with Mr Livingstone backed by nine and Ms Jackson by one backbencher.

The axing of the secret ballot means that the former secretary of state for Health could win even more support, possibly more than 90 per cent of "Section Three" votes. Trade unions and the 68,000 party members in the capital, - the college's other two sections - will be allowed a secret ballot.

Some left-wing MPs, particularly among the 1997 general election intake, have been approached in recent days to ditch their independent stance. "They're obviously going to lean on people, to nobble Ken and Glenda. For Frank, he gets the best of both worlds. The selection vote will take place away from the gaze of the MPs' constituents but under the watchful eye of the whips and party fixers," said one senior Labour source.

The decision contrasts with both this year's NEC elections and the selection of Labour's candidate for First Secretary in Wales, when a fully secret ballot was held among MPs.

A spokesman for Ms Jackson said that it was "another disturbing development" in the conduct of the election. "When is the party going to realise that for a candidate to have validity, they must be seen to have been selected through an electoral process that's not only fair but demonstrably fair," he said. "That cannot happen if the impression is given that the election is being organised solely to produce one specific outcome."

Themove, which was approved by the NEC on Tuesday, was buried in last- minute papers tabled to the meeting. Liz Davies, one of the left-wing members of the committee, said that recording MPs' votes effectively turned the ballot into a loyalty test. "It is deeply disappointing that party members are voting in secret ballots while MPs are to be denied similar rights. This was not ...explicitly discussed at the NEC," she said.

Mark Seddon, another left-winger on the NEC, said the recorded vote was yet another attempt to block Mr Livingstone. "This is supposed to be a democratic party where secret ballots are essential. This smacks of the old central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union."

A Labour Party spokesman denied any desire to influence the vote. "We used a recorded vote for the election of Tony Blair and John Prescott, we are using one for London."