Dobson set for Labour mayoral nomination

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Indy Politics

FRANK DOBSON is poised to become the sole "Stop Ken" candidate in the race for the Labour nomination for the Mayor of London, it emerged last night. Under secret plans drawn up by senior Labour officials, Nick Raynsford, Glenda Jackson and Trevor Phillips would all stand aside to give the Health Secretary a clear run against Ken Livingstone, The Independent has learnt.

FRANK DOBSON is poised to become the sole "Stop Ken" candidate in the race for the Labour nomination for the Mayor of London, it emerged last night. Under secret plans drawn up by senior Labour officials, Nick Raynsford, Glenda Jackson and Trevor Phillips would all stand aside to give the Health Secretary a clear run against Ken Livingstone, The Independent has learnt.

Mr Dobson surprised colleagues and delighted Downing Street yesterday when he revealed for the first time that he may run for the top job if Tony Blair asked him to stand.

The MP, who has in the last few days told friends that he is interested in the Mayor's job, said: "Tony Blair has not actually asked me to stand, but if he did I would have to consider it."

He has previously dismissed claims he may run, but as a Cabinet heavyweight he is seen as the Prime Minister's only realistic hope of defeating the former Greater London Council leader in a ballot of party members in the capital. A Dobson candidacy for Mayor would leave Mr Blair much more room for manoeuvre in his Cabinet reshuffle expected this Thursday, with Mo Mowlam the front-runner to succeed him at the Department of Health.

Mr Dobson's comments prompted Ms Jackson, the former Transport minister, Mr Raynsford, the Environment minister, and Mr Phillips, a London television broadcaster, to immediately reassess their campaigns. Although Mr Raynsford publicly denied that he would pull out of the contest, both his camp and that of Ms Jackson and Mr Phillips indicated that they would reconsider their position.

If all three hopefuls did withdraw, Labour members would be presented with a straight fight between Mr Dobson, backed by the full weight of the Millbank party machine and with the tacit endorsement of Mr Blair, and Mr Livingstone. Mr Dobson has spent the past few months strenuously denying reports that Mr Blair was trying to persuade him to run for Mayor, but yesterday it became clear that he is under tremendous pressure to stand.

In an end of party conference interview in Bournemouth on Friday, the Prime Minister denied that he had "twisted" Mr Dobson's arm, a statement that paved the way for the Health Secretary to present his decision as his own. Labour will announce its selection procedure for Mayor later this month, but Mr Livingstone yesterday repeated his insistence that the partywould not try to "rig" the process to stop him winning.

Meanwhile, Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, yesterday distanced herself from Lord Archer's selection as official Tory candidate for Mayor. Asked if she was worried about Lord Archer's record, she told ITV's Dimbleby programme: "All I can say is that that kind of thing is well known and it will be for the electors to make their minds up."

Mr Blair hopes to steal the Tories' thunder this week by appointing a new Defence Secretary. Cabinet "enforcer" Jack Cunningham and the Scottish Secretary, John Reid, have both been tipped for the post.

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