Deadlocked Labour delays on Livingstone's mayoral bid

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Labour's attempts to finalise its shortlist of London mayoral candidates finished in deadlock and near-disarray after talks ended without agreement over the future of Ken Livingstone.

Labour's attempts to finalise its shortlist of London mayoral candidates finished in deadlock and near-disarray after talks ended without agreement over the future of Ken Livingstone.

After more than four hours of negotiations at Labour's Millbank headquarters it was announced the talks were to be adjourned until tomorrow when former GLC leader Ken Livingstone will be called back for more questions.

Last night, as the negotiations dragged on, Prime Minister Tony Blair had to cancel a series of media interviews arranged to comment on the outcome of the London Selection Board's meeting which was meant to draw up a shortlist of candidates.

Mr Livingstone said: "I've seen popes elected by cardinals in a shorter time than this."

He added: "It would seem to be a pretty simple choice, and I can't believe that it has taken them more than half-an-hour."

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats poured scorn over Labour's indecision about its candidates.

The Tories' Shaun Woodward, shadow minister for London, said: "The delay in choosing Ken Livingstone is a reflection of the contempt with which Labour hold the whole mayoral election process.

"Once again the Labour party considers London's needs to be secondary to Downing Street's desires to put up its own 'yes man', Frank Dobson, as the Labour candidate.

"New Labour should be ashamed of its Livingstone show trial."

Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Susan Kramer said the "incompetence" of the Labour Party's selection process should disqualify it from the elections.

She said: "It's absolutely unbelievable that Labour has had a whole year to fix this contest and they still cannot seem to do so now. The level of incompetence is so great it should disqualify them altogether." The adjournment came after mounting speculation that the Labour hierarchy would allow Mr Livingstone on to the list alongside former Health Secretary Frank Dobson and former Transport Minister Glenda Jackson.

Yesterday Mr Livingstone had appeared confident he would make it on to the shortlist, describing his hour-long interview as "friendly" and saying he would be "astonished" if he was not selected.

However, the problems appear to have surfaced over Mr Livingstone's insistence that he would not back the part-privatisation of the London Underground.

The scheme has been a key pledge of Labour's to bring in new money to the creaking system.

During the meeting Mr Livingstone insisted the policy would be wrong and there was a 20-minute debate over the issue.

Announcing the adjournment, Clive Soley, chairman of the London Selection Board, said it was the board's responsibility to ensure all shortlisted candidates were committed to Labour's policies and programmes.

He said: "However, on the answers given, we could not be sufficiently assured on the commitment that Ken Livingstone has given us on his willingness to commit himself to the policies of the Labour Party and to stand on the party's manifesto.

"It became apparent during the London Selection Board's deliberations, after the candidates had left, that there were aspects of Mr Livingstone's answers which required clarification.

"In particular, we need to clarify whether or not he would stand down and leave us without a candidate if the manifesto was not to his liking."

Senior Labour Party sources said the issue was not about the Tube.

They said it was about whether a Labour candidate would back a Labour manifesto drawn up by the party and its members.

The other two leading candidates appeared frustrated at the delay.

Ms Jackson said: "I am distressed at the length of time they are taking over announcing the shortlist.

"We were interviewed by extremely experienced, dedicated members of the Labour Party. I can't believe that this kind of delay impacts well on this party, and I would hope someone will take a grip on this."

Nick Raynsford, Mr Dobson's campaign manager, said: "Frank Dobson has repeatedly made it clear that he wants Ken Livingstone on the ballot paper.

"He repeated this view to a meeting of his supporters in Camden tonight. He wants Ken Livingstone on the ballot paper and he is absolutely confident he can take on Ken Livingstone and win."

A poll published yesterday showed Mr Livingstone was by far the most popular candidate.

The Guardian/ICM survey showed if Mr Livingstone was Labour's official candidate he would win with 63% of the vote.

It also found that if he stood as an independent he would take 49% of the vote.

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