McDonagh: Ministers failed Dobson

Recriminations over Ken Livingstone's victory as Mayor of London continued yesterday, when Labour's general secretary accused ministers of failing to campaign for the party.

Margaret McDonagh, who heads the party's Millbank machine, spoke out on the issue for the first time, effectively blaming Downing Street for the fiasco of the London elections.

She said the party should never be put in a position where the process of its candidate selection was allowed to overshadow Labour's message.

Her comments came as several Labour MPs broke ranks and called for Mr Livingstone's readmission to the party, well before the end of the five-year ban imposed by Millbank.

Ms McDonagh told the New Statesman magazine yesterday that Frank Dobson was the right candidate for the London mayoral election, but admitted the whole affair should have been handled differently.

"We got ourselves into a position where the candidacy of Frank Dobson, and of Alun Michael in Wales, became completely mixed up in the process of how they were elected. No candidate must be ever put in that position again," she said.

Ms McDonagh added that the Government had to "take the lead" to sell Labour policies to voters and couldn't expect party activists to take all the blame when things went wrong.

"Ministers are always telling the party that it should get out and tell people the good things the Government is doing. The ministers should get out more and do it themselves," she said.

The general secretary's remarks follow heavy criticism by some ministers of her handling of the local and mayoral election campaigns in May. Ms McDonagh said Labour should in future announce "well in advance" the kind of selection process it would use for posts such as mayoral candidates.

But she stressed that the party was better served by Mr Dobson as its losing candidate than Mr Livingstone as a victorious one.

"Here it [Labour] did the principled thing in selecting Frank," Ms McDonagh said. "The best outcome would have been a Dobson victory. But it is better that Livingstone won as an independent than as Labour's official candidate."