Labour shortlist: all eyes on Ken

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A Labour Party selection panel was interviewing hopefuls for the job of London Mayor before drawing up the shortlist from which its official candidate will be chosen.

A Labour Party selection panel was interviewing hopefuls for the job of London Mayor before drawing up the shortlist from which its official candidate will be chosen.

Four would-be candidates were each due to get around an hour to state their case before a meeting in Westminster of the 13-strong selection panel. The shortlist was due to be announced in the late afternoon.

The greatest attention was sure to focus on whether, despite the party leadership's well-known distaste for his candidature, left-winger Ken Livingstone makes it on to the shortlist.

A new poll suggests that if Mr Livingstone were a candidate in next May's poll - either as the Labour candidate or an independent - he would win the mayoralty.

In the early stages of the contest it was widely assumed that the leadership would block the former GLC leader's bid.

But weekend reports suggested that Tony Blair has decided it would be too damaging to exclude the Brent East MP, as that would allow Mr Livingstone to present himself as a martyr, resurrect charges of 'control freakery' in the Labour leadership, and possibly split the party in the capital.

There were suggestions that Mr Blair was planning to make Mr Livingstone provide a 'loyalty oath', demanding that he promise he would not run as an independent if he failed to win the Labour nomination.

Yesterday Mr Livingstone said he would comply with any such demand, if required, and again pledged his readiness to support either Downing Street's favourite, former Health Secretary Frank Dobson, or Glenda Jackson, the former Minister for Transport in London, if they won the nomination.

'I don't have any problem with it. I can give them a loyalty oath. If Frank or Glenda wins, they would make a fine mayor. I would be happy to campaign for either of them', said Mr Livingstone.

But today's Guardian/ICM poll suggests that Mr Dobson's support among Labour voters slipped over the last month, to the point where he is now trailing in third place behind Ms Jackson.

The poll found that if Mr Livingstone were Labour's official candidate next May, he would defeat the Tory candidate, Lord Archer, winning the contest with 63% of the vote to Lord Archerÿs 25%, with Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer in third place on 12%.

It found that even as an independent, Mr Livingstone would come within a whisker of winning the contest outright, with 49% of first preference votes.

A run-off would use the supplementary vote system, which would see the second preferences of the third and fourth placed candidates transferred to the top two candidates.

In that scenario, Mr Livingstone would beat the second-placed Lord Archer by 72% to 28%.

The poll found that Mr Dobson could win the contest, if Mr Livingstone's name is not on the ballot paper next May.

In a straight contest between Mr Dobson, Lord Archer and Ms Kramer, Mr Dobson would gain 44% of the vote first time around, and come through by 55% to Lord Archer's 45% in a second round vote.

The poll, of 1,003 adults in London, found that Mr Livingstone's support among Labour voters in London was now at 53%, compared with Ms Jackson's 18%, and Mr Dobson's 14%.

Last night Mr Livingstone stressed that he would continue to be an independent voice, ready to disagree with the Labour leadership when necessary.

Ã’'hat do you have MPs for? If all we are supposed to do is simply rubber-stamp whatever the Government brings forward, then you could get rid of us all and save an awful lot of money', he told Channel 4 News.

Mr Livingstone reiterated that he thought the Government should have increased the top rate of tax, and kept interest rates lower.

He also acknowledged being at odds with the Labour leadership over its plans for the partial privatisation of the London Tube system.

'I'm totally opposed to privatisation. I'm not going to support passing a third of our Tube to Railtrack,' said Mr Livingstone.

'I'm making it clear in my manifesto, that will be circulated when people get the ballot paper, I want to keep the Tube in the public sector as one organisation,' he said.

Meanwhile former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, now the EU's Transport Commissioner, joined the list of senior party figures backing Mr Dobsonÿs campaign - and attacking Mr Livingstone's bid.

Mr Livingstone is expected to face a concerted campaign of attacks if he does make it on to the shortlist.

In a letter to Labour Party members in London, Mr Kinnock said: 'I have worked with Frank as a friend and comrade for over 20 years. He is a democratic socialist who we can all trust to be a strong advocate for London who will be listened to, and a leader for London who will represent the breadth of the capital's community'.

Mr Kinnock said of Mr Livingstone: 'His leadership of the GLC (Greater London Council) gave daily substance to the 'Loony Left' stories that drove people away from Labour.

'I'm asking my fellow Labour Party members to remember all that. Think about whether you want a candidate whose past and present shows that he wants office but not responsibility, a platform for opposition not the obligations of governing', said Mr Kinnock.

As well as the three better known potential candidates, Islington businessman Ken Baldry will also be interviewed by the selection board.

The shortlist drawn up by the panel will go to the party's electoral college of MPs, trade unionists and members, which will decide who will be Labour's official candidate to take on the Conservative challenger, Lord Archer, and the Liberal Democrat contestant, Susan Kramer.

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