Tony Blair faced accusations of interference yesterday after the Labour Party ordered a re-run of a mayoral candidate selection contest in Lewisham, south-east London.
David Triesman, the party's new general secretary, has ordered a new ballot of members after an investigation concluded that the original vote "was not conducted properly" because ballot papers were sent to ineligible members.
Dave Sullivan, one of Downing Street's favourite Labour council leaders and a leading proponent of directly-elected mayors, lost to his rival, Steve Bullock, earlier this month.
The result stunned some ministerial backers of Mr Sullivan, who claim he faced a smear campaign from critics over his business record and efforts to modernise Lewisham's services.
The prospect of a re-run prompted some to claim Millbank wanted a new contest simply to "get the right result", as it did when Alun Michael beat Rhodri Morgan in Wales and Frank Dobson beat Ken Livingstone in London.
Mr Blair and the party chairman, Charles Clarke, have, in recent months, been at pains to stress that Labour wants to move away from interfering in such local contests.
The re-run, which will select a candidate for the capital's first ever directly elected council mayor – who will take power in May – will begin next week.
Mr Bullock, himself a former leader of Lewisham council, said yesterday: "In these circumstances, I have faith in the common sense of local Labour membership, who have already made their choice of candidate clear."
Mr Sullivan said: "I'm pleased that the Labour Party has recognised that it was their own mistake that lead to the membership of the party being inconvenienced, and I am grateful to the general secretary for the apology he issued to all the members of the party in Lewisham."
Mr Triesman noted in a letter to local members, obtained by The Independent, that the Organisation Committee of the NEC has ordered that an independent scrutineer should oversee the new contest.
"I wish to apologise for the error made by the party and regret the inconvenience cause to members, candidates and all of those involved. Everyone must feel confident of the integrity of our ballots," he wrote.
"In brief, the wrong electoral list was used. Further, the inaccuracy was on such a scale that it may have had a material effect on the outcome of the ballot."
The letter that the membership list used for the selection was out of date and in breach of party rules.
After his defeat, Mr Sullivan alleged that there had been irregularities in the ballot process and an investigation was ordered by Mr Triesman. It concluded last week.
None of the allegations was confirmed, but the inquiry did discover that more than 200 ballot papers had been sent to members who had either died or fallen behind with their subscriptions.Reuse content