Labour Party Conference: London Mayor - High-speed selection plan to block Livingstone

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PRESSURE ON Ken Livingstone to stand as an independent candidate for mayor of London increased yesterday with the news that Labour officials had drawn up detailed plans to block him.

PRESSURE ON Ken Livingstone to stand as an independent candidate for mayor of London increased yesterday with the news that Labour officials had drawn up detailed plans to block him.

The former GLC leader said he still believed that Tony Blair would not stymie his candidacy, but senior party figures confirmed that a "disloyalty dossier" had been compiled by Millbank. Under the plan, a special vetting committee will subject Mr Livingstone to what critics call a "show trial", using his own criticism of government policy as evidence of his unsuitability for the Labour nomination for mayor.

News of the move to block the Brent East MP came as Lord Archer of Weston- super-Mare, the front-runner for the Tory nomination, also ran into claims that his candidacy would tarnish the image of his party. Secret research by Conservative Central Office found that focus groups believed that Lord Archer could resurrect the "sleazy" image of the Tories if he won the ballot of party members due to be announced this Friday.

Although Lord Archer shrugged off the research his main rival, Steven Norris, said it proved the peer was a candidate who could not cross the party divide and appeal to a wide cross-section of voters.

The Labour vetting committee will be a vital element of a "short, sharp" selection system being devised to get a candidate in place before Christmas, five months ahead of the election. The Independent has learnt that the party's ruling National Executive Committee is likely next month to approve a "swift" system for the selection, which would see hopefuls interviewed by a 12-strong panel before a shortlist is put to a capital-wide ballot of members. Contrary to reports yesterday, the panel will not be chaired by John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister. The whole process is expected to last no longer than five weeks.

Party officials were keen to avoid turning the party conference into a platform for dissent by Livingstone supporters. Once it is over, Millbank will act quickly to get a candidate selected. The scheme to keep Mr Livingstone off the Labour shortlist will use an interview he gave to BBC's Newsnight in February, when he listed six "mistakes" made by the Government since it came to office.

Blairites at Millbank believe that the MP's call in the interview for an end to the independence of the Bank of England, a reverse in cuts in child benefit for lone parents and an attack on the decision to cut corporation tax can all be cited as evidence of disloyalty.

However, other evidence will be corralled, including Mr Livingstone's original opposition to the idea of a directly elected mayor and the activities of his "Let Ken Stand" campaign launched earlier this year. "I do not believe that Tony Blair will rig this ballot," Mr Livingstone said, but some of his supporters are keen for him to stand as an independent if he is excluded from the shortlist.

Mr Livingstone refused yesterday to retract any of his comments and went further at a fringe meeting at the Labour conference when he attacked the Government's Asylum and Immigration Bill and plans to use private finance for the Tube. At a packed debate with mayoral rivals, the broadcaster Trevor Phillips and Glenda Jackson, MP for Hampstead and Highgate, Mr Livingstone said that Railtrack, the firm chosen by Mr Prescott to run parts of the Underground, was a "rapacious, short term, greed-dominated company" unfit to invest in the network.

Mr Livingstone also said the Asylum Bill would create a "climate of discrimination" that would undermine greatly London's centuries-old reputation as a haven for refugees.

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