Blair says Livingstone is backed by Trotskyists

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Tony Blairdelivered a blunt warning to his party last night that selection of Ken Livingstone as the mayoral candidate would be a "disaster for Labour, and a disaster for London".

Tony Blairdelivered a blunt warning to his party last night that selection of Ken Livingstone as the mayoral candidate would be a "disaster for Labour, and a disaster for London".

The Prime Minister, stepping up the party leadership's "stop Ken" campaign, claimed the main supporters of Mr Livingstone were a "rag-bag of Trotskyists and Tory newspapers". Speaking during an hour-long question and answer session with London party members, Mr Blair said: "A person who calls for Gordon Brown to be sacked and whose economic politics do not stand up has a total disregard for sensible, mature politics.

"That person would be a disaster for Labour and a disaster for London."

Mr Blair, joined by Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, said that Mr Livingstone as the leader of the GLC during the Eighties - and also since - had opposed steps to modernise the party. Mr Blair said: "I learnt something watching this bloke [Mr Kinnock] here - when the essential interest of the Labour Party is engaged and it is a matter of whether we are going to have a serious, sensible Labour Party or not, when it goes right to the fundamental of what this party is about, I will never stay out of a fight. Never, if I think this is essential to the survival of this party."

Mr Livingstone was selected to be on the short list of the race to be the party's candidate for mayor last month, along with Frank Dobson and Glenda Jackson. The party was accused of having turned its selection process into "a shambles" after Mr Livingstone wascalled back for a second interview when he criticised the Government's proposals for the partial privatisation of the London Underground.

However, Mr Livingstone, who is instead in favour of issuing bonds to fund the Tube, gained some sort of victory earlier this week when John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, abandoned his commitment to hand over part of the Tube to Railtrack.

Both Mr Blair and Mr Kinnock launched a passionate defence of their proposal when they spoke at the party meeting at Brixton, in south London, last night."Don't let anyone fall for this rubbish that we want to privatise the Tube," Mr Blair said. "The reason why bonds are wrong is because they are the same as borrowing money, like a mortgage, which you have to pay off, which means that large sums of money are just frittering away."

Mr Blair, after several hostile questions, told party members that Mr Livingstone's recent attack on Mr Brown showed why they were worried about the possibility of him being their candidate. Mr Blair said the attack, in which Mr Livingstone criticised Mr Brown for introducing "stealth taxes", was made for a headline and without regard of what it would do to the party.

He said that for the party to win a full second term, it was important to understand that the Labour Party was "different today from the early Eighties".

"You probably think that we are being very hard on Ken," Mr Blair said. "This is a difficult process but believe me, the reason why so many people totally opposed to Labour are so desperate to get back in that situation [of the Eighties] is because what they want is a mayor for London who is going to [oppose] the Government every day on all fronts, on all aspects."

Mr Kinnock added: "Ken is talking through the back of his neck. The people who forget their past are inevitably doomed to relive it."

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