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Now Dobson hits out at 'cost of Ken' in billboard blitz

Labour stepped up its attacks on Ken Livingstone yesterday with a warning that he would double council taxes in London and impose £300-a-month congestion charges on motorists.

The claims came as the former Greater London Council leader said he felt the race for mayor of London was much closer than opinion polls suggested and he would need every vote he could get to defeat the party machines.

With just nine days to go until polling day, Labour's official candidate, Frank Dobson, will today roll out the first of 65 election billboards aimed at ramming home the message "Beware the Cost of Ken".

The £50,000 campaign will see the posters placed at key points in the capital until the election on 4 May in a last-ditch attempt to outgun the smaller Livingstone campaign.

In a fresh attack on the former Labour MP, Mr Dobson's camp will claim that Mr Livingstone's plans to put conductors back on buses, guards on Tube trains and restore firefighter levels will add £96 to the £113 council tax precept imposed on all Londoners.

Some 5,000 Labour members are now involved in Mr Dobson's campaign, a fact that party officials said yesterday proved momentum was swinging his way.

Millbank is confident that following the strong support of Tony Blair in recent weeks, together with doubts about the cost of the independent candidate, the gap is narrowing in the contest.

Mr Livingstone dismissed suggestions that he would impose a £300-a-month congestion tax on drivers but admitted he did want some form of charge to persuade people to switch to public transport.

Bookmakers this week refused to take any more bets on the Brent East MP becoming mayor, but he was quick to stress that he did not trust the 33-point lead credited to him in a recent opinion poll.

"I don't believe these poll leads at all," he said. "At the end of the day I don't have a party machine. I have always thought it will always be a lot closer race than the polls are saying," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme. "On polling day Labour, Tories and Liberals will have thousands of people dragging people out to vote. I will not have that."

Mr Dobson launched his manifesto yesterday with a warning that while some voters wanted to take a "poke" at the Government, the cost of a victory for Mr Livingstone was making them think twice. "This is no time for a punt on a 'fun' candidate. London is too important for that," he said.

Mr Dobson's manifesto rejects Tube privatisation, promises to speed up public transport and pledges no congestion charges in his first term of office. It also promises to reverse the rise in levels of street crime in the capital within two years by recruiting more police officers.

But Mr Livingstone said: "Frank Dobson's campaign is becoming increasingly desperate. The claim that I would increase the tax burden by £300 a month does not have the slightest basis in any policy I have proposed.

"My manifesto clearly states that I would 'consult widely about the best possible congestion charge scheme to discourage unnecessary car journeys in a small zone of central London, to commence during the middle of my term of office', allowing the necessary improvements in the transport system to come first."

Mr Livingstone said he believed that Steven Norris, the Tory candidate, was his closest rival and he wanted to warn Londoners that Mr Norris had backed privatisation of the Underground.

ICM's most recent poll put Mr Livingstone in first place on 49 per cent, with Mr Norris on 16 per cent and Mr Dobson on 15 per cent. A new ICM poll is due later this week.