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Parliament: Livingstone `uncontrollable left-winger'

MICHAEL HESELTINE entered the storm over Labour's selection of candidates for London mayor yesterday, branding Ken Livingstone a "damaging" and "uncontrollable left-wing influence".

Mr Heseltine said the MP for Brent East had been the main reason he had decided, as Secretary of State for the Environment in the Thatcher government of the early 1980s, to recommend abolition of the Greater London Council. "What is the difference between what I did, which was to get rid of the GLC and Mr Livingstone, and what this Labour Government is trying to do, which is to stop Mr Livingstone?

"Isn't the only real difference that I succeeded and you are going to fail?" the former deputy prime minister said during resumed debate on the Queen's Speech.

He added: "I was the Secretary of State that, I think wisely, on reflection, recommended to the Cabinet that we should get rid of the GLC. One of the reasons we did that was because Mr Livingstone was the leader of the GLC and represented an uncontrollable left-wing influence, damaging London."

Mr Heseltine said, however, that directly elected mayors were needed elsewhere in Britain because, at present, there were too many councils and not enough people prepared to give up their time to serve as councillors, especially when the pay was so low.

Earlier, John Redwood, the shadow Environment Secretary, challenged John Prescott repeatedly on whether he agreed with the Prime Minister in regarding Mr Livingstone as a reminder of the "extremism of the Eighties". Replying, the Deputy Prime Minister said: "Any candidate has to agree to sign up to a manifesto. It's a simple principle."

Mr Prescott accused the Conservative candidate, Lord Archer of Weston- super-Mare, of "switching about" on policies like the future of the London Underground.

"The way we do it in our party - we decide the policy, candidates have the obligation to implement it and they must sign up to the manifesto."