Ken Livingstone, Labour's candidate for the London mayoralty, has hit out at suggestions that he should not stand against Boris Johnson for the post next May.
The former mayor was responding to rumours that Ed Miliband might cut Mr Livingstone loose and impose the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson as candidate in the 2012 London mayoral race.
"Alan Johnson is a lovely fellow, but to do this you have to be absolutely ruthless, relentless, and driven. No one ever accused Alan of that," Mr Livingstone said.
Some on the Blairite wing of the party think that a Johnson versus Johnson election would improve Labour's chance of victory, with opinion polls suggesting that Boris Johnson still commands a majority in London's outer suburbs, which delivered him victory in 2008.
Mr Livingstone recently tried to answer questions over his age by claiming that he has "the same heart profile as an Olympic runner", although he did concede that his teeth "are shit. That's the weakness". He claims that, at the age of 66, he has the health of a 40-year-old.
Mr Livingstone lays claim to an advantage that no younger, up and coming Labour hopeful has – that after 30 years in the public eye, including eight as London Mayor and five as leader of the former Greater London Council, people know who he is.
He said: "Boris Johnson is the only Tory with a positive popularity rating. In the polls, Boris beats me by two to one on charisma and I beat him by 60-40 on competence. I think this election is going to be more about competence than the old charisma because people are going to be hurting.
"Both me and Boris have name recognition, unprompted, above 80 per cent, and if there was any other Labour candidate they would start with the problem that people don't know who they are."
A veteran of the left who has fallen out with most of Labour's leaders during his long career, Mr Livingstone went out of his way to praise Ed Miliband, whom he bracketed with Clement Attlee and John Smith as the three best post-war leaders Labour has had. He was on notoriously bad terms with Tony Blair, who tried to prevent him from running for the office of mayor, and whom he accuses of being obsessed with his media image.
He said: "Having been meeting with Ed Miliband over the past year, I have been incredibly impressed with how his confidence has grown. I was meeting him last week, and I just thought 'You are so different from a year ago'.
"He reminds me much more of John Smith than other Labour leaders. He is focused on what he believes, and he is not obsessed with the media. I think there is a real parallel.
"I think Smith would have directed the greatest Labour government since Attlee's, and I think Ed Miliband has got the potential to do that."Reuse content