Livingstone set for narrow re-election as London Mayor

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Ken Livingstone is on course to be narrowly re-elected as Mayor of London but Labour support across the capital is in retreat, according to a poll released last night.

Ken Livingstone is on course to be narrowly re-elected as Mayor of London but Labour support across the capital is in retreat, according to a poll released last night.

The YouGov internet survey of London electors gave the Mayor 35 per cent of first-preference votes, increasing to a likely 53 per cent when second preference is taken into account.

His nearest rival, the Conservative Steve Norris, looks set to win 31 per cent of first preferences, rising to a final 47, according to the poll. The official result of the capital's elections will be announced tonight

A separate Mori poll predicted a comfortable victory for Mr Livingstone.

In the elections for the London Assembly, the survey for Sky News gave the Conservatives 32 per cent of the vote, well ahead of Labour on 24. The Liberal Democrats were on 19 per cent, with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) on 10, the Greens on 8 and the other parties on 7.

Ahead of the results, senior Labour sources admitted that the party was likely to lose seats on the Assembly, which monitors the Mayor's performance, calls him to account and, crucially, can amend his budget. At present, Labour and the Tories each have nine seats, the Liberal Democrats four and the Green Party three.

Last night's poll suggested the new-look assembly that will emerge after yesterday's elections could have nine Tories, seven Labour members, five Liberal Democrats, two Greens and two members from UKIP, which barely registered in the previous London elections.

In theory, the new assembly make-up would allow the other parties to amend Mr Livingstone's annual budget, because it requires the support of two thirds of the 25 members.

It also carried a warning to the party that between 10 and 20 Labour MPs in London, a key political battleground, could be vulnerable in the general election expected next year.

One ally of Mr Livingstone said: "We expect to lose two or three seats in the assembly. We hope to retain the mayoralty but we could find our room for manoeuvre limited by the new assembly. It is going to get harder."

Although Mr Livingstone's standing in the polls dropped after he rejoined the Labour Party, his opposition to the Iraq war may have insulated him from the "Iraq backlash" facing Labour in yesterday's local, European and London elections. But Labour's candidates for the assembly appear to have been hit harder by the "Iraq effect".

Mr Livingstone's apparently strong showing could also indicate that his flagship congestion charging policy has widespread approval across the capital.

But the Conservatives will be heartened by the growth in support for Mr Norris since he became their Mayoral candidate four years ago.

The Liberal Democrats, who had scored a stunning parliamentary by-election victory in Brent East last September, will be disappointed that their candidate, Simon Hughes, failed to enthuse the voters.

One Labour source said: "London is a marginal between Labour and the Tories. We would expect the Tories to bounce back and the Liberal Democrats to make some advances."

Last night's surveys suggested that Labour's cautious optimism that Mr Livingstone, who won the post as an independent four years ago, will see off a late challenge by Mr Norris was well placed.

The party had been rattled by a survey on Wednesday which predicted that, after second- preference votes were taken into account, Mr Livingstone (51 per cent) had only a tiny lead over Mr Norris (49 per cent) among those certain to vote in the election.

A shock defeat in the mayoral race would be a disaster for Tony Blair, who is hoping victory in the capital might soften the blow from the poor results expected in the local and European elections.

* The Tories last night held on to a Hackney Borough Council seat in a by-election.

Voters in the New River ward elected the Conservative candidate Harvey Odze as their new councillor, but there was a 2.4 per cent swing to Labour since the 2002 council elections.