New mayor Ken rejects costly 'Soapdish' HQ

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Indy Politics

Ken Livingstone yesterday cast doubt on the future of lavish new Greater London Assembly building on his first full day as London Mayor.

Mr Livingstone refused to give his firm support to the headquarters near Tower Bridge. Dubbed by some the "Orb" or the "Soapdish", the centre, designed by Norman Foster, is expected to cost £8m a year to run compared with £2m at of the Greater London Assembly's temporary home in Marsham Street, Westminster.

Construction costs of the futuristic Orb are estimated at £150m. Now a building site it is due for completion in 2002.

"It's going to take months to decide," said Mr Livingstone. "It will be a joint decision. But the criteria is to do it as cheaply as possible."

He is also thought to have used a 20-minute telephone call with the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to lobby for more money for the Capital.

The GLA's budget stands at £3.6bn but Mr Livingstone said yesterday: "I really want this system to work and I am hoping to get a bit more money for tackling our problems - that is the major issue."

Labour has now admitted "control freakery" may have cost them the victory and has promised to change the rules to select candidates.

Future American-style primaries for the party's nominees to stand as prospective mayors in the other British cities tipped for devolution will not be run in the same way as the disastrous London debacle.

Senior Labour sources insisted no one would be playing the "blame game". No individual or set of people would be scapegoated.

But internal party elections will be reviewed, spelling the end of the electoral college system which robbed Mr Livingstone of the Labour nomination and bred resentment against Frank Dobson, Mr Blair's favourite.

"It is about the way the party operates, the way the different bits of the party work together generally. That will include a review of how we select candidates, specifically for devolved institutions like the mayoral contest," the source said. "There is an acceptance that the system has not really worked properly. People have complained about them and we want to listen to their complaints and act on them.

"People felt the electoral college was inappropriate for the selection of the Mayor of London."

Mr Blair and his most senior advisers were repeatedly accused of being "control freaks" and many claimed they were trying to "rig" the selection process.

But despite admitting a mistake had been made, the Labour Party was reluctant to take all the blame without having a dig at Mr Livingstone.

"We are unlikely to have such contentious contests in other areas and that is simply a function of Ken," said the Labour source.