Frank Dobson has given the clearest indication yet that he accepts he cannot beat Ken Livingstone outright in the race to become London mayor.
After weeks of attacks on the former GLC leader's policies, Mr Dobson turned his guns on his Tory rival, Steven Norris, last night in an attempt to secure second place in the race.
If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the votes, the second preferences of voters whose first choice candidates came third, fourth or fifth will be redistributed. If Mr Dobson cannot beat Mr Norris to second place, he will be out of the race. If he comes second to Mr Livingstone, he will have to rely on the second preferences of voters who supported the Tory.
In his attack on Mr Norris, Mr Dobson held a press conference with survivors of the Marchioness disaster and relatives of some of the 51 people who died when the pleasure boat was hit by a dredger in the Thames in August 1989.
The Tory candidate, who was a transport minister from 1992 to 1996, chose not to hold an inquiry into the accident.
Ministers under the last government were criticised by a later inquiry under Lord Justice Clarke, completed this year, for not making public thefindings of inspectors on the accident. "I welcomed the publication of Lord Justice Clarke's report. This included the establishment of a full public inquiry into the Marchioness disaster, which had been refused by the previous Tory government," Mr Dobson said.
He promised an urgent assessment of life-saving equipment on the Thames river bank to help ensure such a tragedy could never be repeated.
However, he denied he was campaigning for second place. "We are in a battle with a Tory candidate for mayor which is where we have always been."
A spokesman for Mr Norris said: "We knew Frank Dobson was desperate but we did not think he was desperate enough to use the Marchioness tragedy in an attempt to win political points to support his now-failed campaign."
Mr Norris said earlier yesterday that he expected to win at least second place in the race, so his voters would not need to worry about who to put second on their ballot slips.