Poll boost for Livingston after 'dirty tricks' play part in first major setback

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Indy Politics

A massive poll lead has boosted Ken Livingstone's bid to become Mayor for London, after he suffered his first major setback last night.

Mr Livingstone was condemned by the MPs' disciplinary committee for failing to declare £158,000 in outside earnings.

The MP has agreed to make a public apology to the Commons in relation to the claims.

But more encouragingly, the poll in the Evening Standard newspaper shows that he remains on course to crush Labour's Frank Dobson.

Mr Livingstone commands 61 per cent support, with Mr Dobson on 16 per cent, Tory Steve Norris on 13 per cent and Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer on 8 per cent.

Mr Livingstone's lead of 45 per cent is 10 points down from a poll taken on the day he announced he was standing as a candidate. But any lingering Labour hopes that that survey was a freak have been dashed.

Labour had predicted that once campaigning was under way, Mr Dobson's ratings would soar while Mr Livingstone's would plummet.

In fact the ex-Health Secretary's rating has improved only 3 per cent since the poll on March 6 - within the margin of error of most surveys. And since a similar poll on February 20 it has fallen by 6 per cent.

The ICM poll of 1,005 voters across the capital was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday - largely before yesterday's rebuke for Mr Livingstone from the Commons standards and privileges committee for failing to declare more than £158,000 of outside earnings.

But Labour hopes that the affair might severely dent the maverick's campaign suffered when the 300 voters questioned after the news broke still gave Mr Livingstone a high rating for trustworthiness.

Pollsters said their answers were similar to those who did not know of the MPs' censure, with an overall honesty rating for Mr Livingstone of 62 per cent, with only 18 per cent believing him to be dishonest.

Meanwhile counterclaims that Mr Livingstone had been the victim of dirty tricks emerged when the person whose name appeared on a complaint about the MP said he had never written the letter.

The office of Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, had a call from John Jones of Shepshed in Leicestershire saying he was not involved.

Mr Jones, an associate lecturer at Loughborough University, said: "I got a letter through this morning and all the press started ringing. It's nothing to do with me. I don't know anything about politics."

He said he could not think of any reason why someone would want to lodge a complaint in his name.

Whatever the origin of the complaint, the revelation that the former GLC leader earned up to £2,700 a time for speeches to business audiences was bound to damage his campaign.

Mr Livingstone recently claimed he had just £20,000 in his coffers, and placed a series of newspaper advertisements asking the public to help him raise £500,000 for his independent campaign.

A report by the Committee on Standards and Privileges said Mr Livingstone earned £220,992 on top of his MP's salary between June 1998 and February 2000.

Of that, £158,599 should have been declared in the Register of Members' Interests because it related to his Parliamentary work.

Mr Livingstone breached the rules of registration and failed to observe the principle of openness which the Code of Conduct for MPs required, the committee said. He should make an apology to the House of Commons by means of a personal statement.

Mr Livingstone's register entry did not list his two newspaper columns, one of which appears in The Independent, his links with eight public speaking agencies, his other media work or a recent book contract.

Instead, it said he was a director of Localaction, a firm set up to cover the publication of Socialist Economic Bulletin, which the MP runs, along with other writing and media work.

Mr Livingstone said he had given more than 40 paid speeches in the past year, mostly to business audiences.

The committee's acting chairman, Alan Williams, said the MP's declaration had fallen short of the required standard. "It was out of date because he had taken on work we described as commercially significant speaking engagements at very substantial fees since he made his initial entry," he said. Mr Livingstone said last night that he had made the entry in 1996 after consulting the then commissioner, Sir Gordon Downey.

At that time, his earnings were between £20,000 and £30,000 but they had since increased by a factor of 10. But the complaint would not damage his campaign," he said.

"I think most people know there's going to be a lot of dirt in the campaign and there is going to be worse to come. I don't believe anyone thinks there would be this brouhaha if I wasn't standing for Mayor".

Bernard Jenkin, the Shadow London Minister, said: "As Ken Livingstone has said he is in favour of a 'greedy bastard tax' and that he favours higher taxes on those earning over £50,000, there is nothing to stop him making a voluntary donation to the Exchequer."