Labour to scrap 'stitch-up' for mayoral selection

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Indy Politics

Labour is to scrap the controversial system under which Frank Dobson was chosen as its candidate for mayor of London. In a U-turn, Tony Blair will ditch the much-criticised electoral college, which allowed Mr Dobson to defeat Ken Livingstone narrowly in the selection contest.

The system was condemned as a "stitch-up" because it ensured Mr Livingstone's defeat even though he won the overwhelming backing of party members in the capital. In the college, the members commanded a third of the votes, as did trade unions, with the remaining third going to London MPs, Euro MPs and Greater London Assembly candidates.

Labour bosses now admit privately that the voting system is discredited and helped Mr Livingstone to justify his decision to run for mayor as an independent. "There is now a widespread view that we cannot stick with the electoral college; it will have to go," one Labour source said yesterday.

The decision means that when Labour chooses its candidates for mayor in other cities, such as Birmingham and Liverpool, the choice will be left to party members only in a "one member, one vote" ballot.

Mr Blair has always favoured such ballots but his desire to stop Mr Livingstone becoming Labour's standard-bearer persuaded him to back an electoral college in London.

He opted for the same system in Wales to thwart the initial attempt by Rhodri Morgan to become First Secretary in the Welsh Assembly , who was narrowly defeated by the Blairite Alun Michael. Mr Blair has candidly admitted he was wrong to block Mr Morgan, who won the post earlier this year after Mr Michael resigned.

The switch to "one member, one vote" for mayoral selections may anger the trade unions, because they will lose the influence they enjoyed in the London and Welsh contests.

But the unions will be assured by Labour chiefs that they will retain their 33 per cent share of the vote in the college that chooses the party leader. MPs and Euro MPs have one- third of the votes, as do party members.

Although some modernisers want the Labour leader to be chosen by members alone, party bosses will reject that. They do not want to alienate the unions when they are being asked for a big injection of cash to finance Labour's general election campaign. A rule change to set up the new system for choosing mayoral candidates will be proposed at Labour's annual conference in September. It will form part of a package of measures to revitalise the party's grassroots.

Labour is expected to reject plans for American-style "primaries" under which registered supporters who are not party members could choose mayoral candidates. This idea has been floated by Clive Soley, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Labour conference will also vote on a new system for choosing the party's candidates for elections to the European Parliament after criticism that the party's Millbank headquarters enjoyed too much influence over the list drawn up before last year's elections.

Labour is also expected to drop the "closed list" system, also widely criticised because it allowed voters only to support a party rather than individual candidates.