Gavron agrees to become deputy to Livingstone

Labour stalwart seals party's working relationship with Mayor in return for him adopting a more Blairite line on the Tube
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Indy Politics

Labour's uneasy truce with Ken Livingstone turned into full-bloodied co-operation yesterday when the party veteran Nicky Gavron agreed to become deputy mayor of London.

After days of intense horsetrading, Ms Gavron formally accepted Mr Livingstone's offer to serve as his deputy after he agreed to revise his opposition to government policy on the Tube. Lord Harris of Haringey, the leader of the Labour group on the Greater London Assembly, also welcomed his nomination by the mayor to the new Metropolitan Police Authority.

The breakthrough came as Tony Blair made clear in the House of Commons that he was "not responsible" for Mr Livingstone and stressed that Labour members would abide by the party's manifesto.

Challenged by William Hague on the Mayor's plans to impose a congestion charge for motorists in the capital, the Prime Minister made clear that Labour would fight theproposals.

"I'm not responsible for the new Mayor. I am responsible, however, for the Labour members and I can assure you that the Labour members will abide by their manifesto," Mr Blair said. His cautious stance was underlined by Ms Gavron, a leading Labour member of the assembly, when she announced that she had decided to take up the post of deputy mayor for one year.

In a letter to Mr Livingstone, she said that she had accepted only after he had agreed to Labour's demand to call in an independent panel of experts to assess the Government's part-privatisation of the Tube.

The panel, which is likely to be chaired by Simon Jenkins, a former editor of The Times, will review whether the publicprivate partnership (PPP) provides better value for money than Mr Livingstone's bonds scheme. "It was essential to get a clear agreement with the Mayor on issues such as the funding of the Tube. Ken was elected as an independent. I was elected on Labour's manifesto," Ms Gavron said.

"I could not be deputy mayor unless Ken had agreed to avoid constant conflict with the Government. We welcome the opportunity to start making London a better place for all Londoners in this critical first year." The Labour group stressed that it reserved the right to review its co-operation with the Mayor "in the light of his conduct", an explicit warning that it would pull out if he challenged the PPP in the courts.

As Mr Livingstone reiterated his views on the expected cuts at Ford's Dagenham plant, the party added that it did not "see the mayoralty as a platform from which to assert political views on issues not relevant to his role". Hawks within the Labour group, who were appalled by Mr Livingstone's decision to stand against Frank Dobson for the mayoralty, were at first extremely suspicious of the deal with him.

However, the group agreed that by locking the Brent East MP into an agreement not to seek confrontation with the Government, they could gain top posts and be seen to beconstructive.

Mr Livingstone is extremely keen to be readmitted to the Labour Party and has agreed to the compromise in the hope that his five-year expulsion will end well before the next mayoral election in 2004.