Livingstone mayoral bandwagon rolls forward at full throttle as Dobson trails a distant third

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TONY BLAIR'S hopes of thwarting Ken Livingstone's bid to become Mayor of London suffered a setback yesterday when a poll suggested the left-wing MP is cruising to victory.

TONY BLAIR'S hopes of thwarting Ken Livingstone's bid to become Mayor of London suffered a setback yesterday when a poll suggested the left-wing MP is cruising to victory.

The survey came as Trevor Phillips, one of four candidates chasing the Labour nomination for May's election, looked set to pull out of the race and give his backing to Frank Dobson, the former health secretary.

Mr Phillips may become deputy mayor and chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, posts he could win if elected to the Greater London Authority under proportional representation. Such positions would provide a powerful platform from which the black television presenter could run for the mayor's job four years later.

Mr Dobson, Mr Blair's favoured candidate, trailed badly behind Mr Livingstone in yesterday's ICM poll of 1,007 Londoners for the Evening Standard. Mr Livingstone is favoured by 50 per cent of Labour supporters as the best candidate, ahead of Glenda Jackson on 16, Mr Dobson on 15 and Mr Phillips on 7 per cent.

If Mr Livingstone were chosen as Labour's official candidate, the poll suggests he would comfortably win. He has the support of 63 per cent of Londoners, with Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, the Tory candidate, on 27 per cent and the Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer on 10 per cent.

Mr Dobson would also beat Lord Archer if he wins the Labour nomination. But both would be beaten by Mr Livingstone if he decided to run as an independent. In that event he would win 43 per cent of votes, Lord Archer 25, Mr Dobson 23 and Ms Kramer 10 per cent.

Mr Livingstone enjoys better personal ratings than Mr Dobson, his closest rival for the party's nomination. Although Mr Dobson is seen as more moderate, Mr Livingstone is regarded as more competent and honest than Mr Dobson.

Although the survey was conducted after Mr Dobson quit the Cabinet to launch his campaign, his camp said it was still early days.

The poll came as Labour chiefs came under pressure to ensure a fairer voting system for trade unions, which will make up a third of the electoral college which selects the party's standard-bearer. Party members will also get 33 per cent of the votes, with the other third going to London MPs, Euro-MPs and assembly candidates.

Under the system, the total share of the college taken by individual unions would go to the candidate it favours, even if he or she won only 51 per cent backing within the union. Some unions are pressing for Labour to ensure the college reflects the relative support for each candidate within each union, saying this would be a genuine "one member, one vote" process.

One union official said: "We do not want to be part of a Ken Livingstone ego trip, but nor do we want to be bounced into a New Labour stitch-up. Allocation of votes in a way that genuinely reflects our members' wishes may well be the fairest way to proceed."

Splitting the votes within unions would almost certainly boost Mr Dobson's chances. But Blairites denied the leadership was relying on union votes to secure victory for Mr Dobson. They suggested many unions had already been written off, as their left-wing leaders would urge members to back Mr Livingstone.

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