Mayoral candidates try to win London's crucial black vote could decide who will be mayor of London

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Indy Politics

Ken Livingstone, Steve Norris and Simon Hughes last night made a last-minute bid to win over London's black vote as the race for London mayor reached its final furlong.

Ken Livingstone, Steve Norris and Simon Hughes last night made a last-minute bid to win over London's black vote as the race for London mayor reached its final furlong.

Black leaders warned the ethnic minority vote could decide the final outcome of the mayoral race, as all three candidates reasserted their credentials on racial issues at a hustings attended by hundreds of black Londoners.

Around 25 per cent of London's electorate is from the ethnic minorities and yesterday black leaders said it was "political suicide" to ignore them.

Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote said the black vote could not only decide the outcome of the mayoral race but quash the re-emergence of the far right in the capital.

"The black vote holds the balance of power in London," he said. "This is an opportunity to deal a resounding blow to the BNP at the dispatch box."

Mr Livingstone outflanked his rivals yesterday by revealing the endorsement of Jesse Jackson, the charismatic black civil rights leader. Mr Hughes and Mr Norris reasserted their long standing support for black and Asians in London while Darren Johnson, the Green candidate, stressed his long-held commitment to an equality agenda.

As the mayoral campaign reached its final 24 hours, the polls showed Mr Livingstone retaining his comfortable lead. But in the Labour camp there were concerns that traditional party supporters would stay away from the polls, in protest at Tony Blair's leadership and the Iraq war.

Although Mr Livingstone - like Mr Norris, Mr Hughes and Mr Johnson - has been an outspoken critic of the war, canvass returns suggested Labour's standing in the capital may be affected by the situation in Iraq.

A low turnout would be most damaging to Labour's standing in the London Assembly. The party could lose at least one of its nine seats and Mr Livingstone could find himself without enough Labour support to push through his budget.

But last night the Mayor's campaign team was confident the anti-Blair vote would not rebound on Ken Livingstone. They said they had encountered more hostility towards the congestion charge on the doorstep. "Iraq is not the most significant issue in London," said a spokesman yesterday. "The polls and canvass returns are showing we are well in front."

Yesterday the Liberal Democrats were out campaigning for Simon Hughes, who is currently in third behind the Tories. To have a chance of beating the encumbent mayor, Mr Hughes will have to overtake Mr Norris and get into second place. From second he believes he will have enough Tory and Green second preferences to catapult him past the Mayor into the winning position.

But the Liberal Democrats were putting an optimistic gloss on their position while admitting privately that beating the Mayor would be a tough task.

"The canvas data we have been getting is exceedingly positive," said one aide. "If we come second it's going to be bloody close."

The Greens are on target to boost their share of the vote in London. They are set to benefit from the anti-Blair vote in the capital, like the Liberal Democrats. But the Greens, who have three members on the London Assembly including the deputy mayor, will have to battle it out with UKIP for extra seats.

Yesterday they were optimistic they would increase their standing. "We are aiming for five assembly members and are expecting Labour to lose seats," said a spokesman. "Even if UKIP does get a seat we think we can make gains from Labour."