Millbank: 'We want to see Ken's blood on the carpet'

LABOUR MAYOR ROW Electoral college to stop Livingstone unveiled as Dobson starts campaign
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Indy Politics

"WE WANT to see Ken's blood on the carpet. This is the way to do it." After months of delays, arm-twisting and back-room dealing, Millbank insiders couldn't conceal their glee yesterday as the Labour Party finally unveiled its answer to the "Ken conundrum".

"WE WANT to see Ken's blood on the carpet. This is the way to do it." After months of delays, arm-twisting and back-room dealing, Millbank insiders couldn't conceal their glee yesterday as the Labour Party finally unveiled its answer to the "Ken conundrum".

The party's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) declared that an electoral college of party members, trades unions, MPs, MEPs and Greater London Assembly candidates will choose the candidate for next May's elections for the Mayor of London.

Although official spokesmen insisted there had been no "stitch up", several party figures were clearly confident that the system would act as a powerful Paracetamol for one of Tony Blair's biggest electoral headaches.

The announcement, which caught even London party chiefs by surprise, certainly proves that if a week is a long time in politics, a fortnight must be the equivalent of a light year.

Two weeks ago, Frank Dobson was walking around the Labour party conference in Bournemouth with a huge grin on his face, said to be "bloody relieved" that the Housing minister Nick Raynsford was entering the mayoral race. Yesterday, as he launched his official campaign for the capital's top job, the former secretary of state for health had clearly emerged as Downing Street's favoured choice for first citizen of London.

Flanked by no fewer than six ministers, including Mr Raynsford, the Holborn and St Pancras MP officially launched his mayoral campaign with promises to sort out the Tube, cut crime and ease traffic.

Even Tony Banks, the former secretary of state for culture, media and sport, frequently tipped for Mayor himself, appeared alongside Mr Dobson. In his first public comments on the contest, Mr Banks, the envoy for England's World Cup bid, revealed that he was ready to stand for Mayor until the decision by FIFA, the game's governing body, was delayed from March to July.

Mr Dobson said he would improve the lot of Londoners "not by keeping quiet, nor by megaphone diplomacy", but by putting his case forcefully at home and abroad. In a clear reference to his closeness to Mr Blair, he said: "We'll need the support and help of the Government. And I'm better placed than any other candidate to deliver that support."

Less than three hours later, his words looked remarkably prescient as the NEC voted for the electoral college, which aims to have a candidate in place by the first week in December.

The selection process will consist of three stages - self-nomination by would-be candidates, interview and shortlisting by a 13-member Greater London Labour Party Selection Panel, and the electoral college vote. Panel members include the Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney, Parliamentary Labour Party chairman Clive Soley, London Labour Party chairman Jim Fitzpatrick and Labour peers Baroness Uddin and Baroness Gould of Potternewton. All candidates will be required to meet "quality" criteria although Labour sources insisted these were not meant to be an "elephant trap" for Mr Livingstone.

The only NEC members to vote against the selection process were left-wingers Mark Seddon, Liz Davies, Christine Shawcroft and Dennis Skinner.

Crucially, the electoral college was the idea of Margaret Prosser, deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and, as treasurer of the Labour Party, a Blairite loyalist. Labour spokesmen pointed out that the system was used to elect Tony Blair and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

The 59 Labour MPs, 4 MEPs and 25 GLA candidates are certain to back Mr Dobson, delivering him a guaranteed chunk of votes. Following allegations by defeated candidate Rhodri Morgan of a "rigged contest" in Wales, nions will be under real pressure not to hold block votes for the London contest.

But Mr Livingstone is expected to do well in the union section, with postal workers, fire-fighters, the council union, Unison, and the rail workers' unions, Aslef and RMT, all likely to support him.

Only the GMB and the electricians union, AEEU, may refuse to hold one member, one vote ballots. Among party members, the contest is likely to be close, but a single transferable vote system could work in Mr Dobson's favour.

"Some London Labour Party people don't want Ken to stand. But its the Blairites at Millbank who want to see him humiliated. They want blood," said one senior source.

The main rivals to be first citizen of London

Frank Dobson (Labour)

TUBE: Clearly thinks the Government's public-private partnership (PPP) is the best option. But says no decision is "irrevocable"

POLICE: Strong anti-racist credentials helped defeat BNP in Millwall in 1994. Expected to appoint black chair of police authority

TRAFFIC: Likely to back official government line of raising cash from road pricing and workplace car park levy

Ken Livingstone (Labour)

TUBE: Wants a New York-style bond issue in order to raise finance more cheaply; describes PPP as privatisation - unions agree

POLICE: Would insist that any police officer who refused to give evidence to a race or corruption inquiry would be sacked

TRAFFIC: Is also enthusiastic about the policy on road pricing, but also wants to see the return of conductors on the buses

Lord Archer (Tory)

TUBE: Vowed he would not sign any contracts for the PPP. Also backs the bond issue idea

POLICE: Wants politicians to "get off the police's backs" and offer officers more support

TRAFFIC: Only candidate to oppose road tolls for commuters. Wants new system of high-speed bus routes

Susan Kramer (Lib Dem)

TUBE: Yet another supporter of the bond issue

POLICE: Would reverse year-on-year cuts in bobbies on the beat

TRAFFIC: Free park-and-ride travel card for motorists; would introduce congestion charges only after underground and bus services are improved