Smear claims engulf mayoral race

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Claims of smear campaigns and dirty tricks were dominating the London mayoral race today after separate controversies engulfed leading candidates Lord Archer and Frank Dobson.

Claims of smear campaigns and dirty tricks were dominating the London mayoral race today after separate controversies engulfed leading candidates Lord Archer and Frank Dobson.

Lord Archer faced the prospect of a new inquiry into his involvement in the purchase of Anglia TV shares five years ago while his wife was a director on the board.

Meanwhile Mr Dobson - No 10's favourite for the job - faced allegations of breaching data protection rules in his canvassing of Labour party members in London.

The latest twists came after Cabinet minister Clare Short launched a withering attack on Ken Livingstone's "silly games".

Glenda Jackson, the only other Labour candidate in the race, complained only a week ago that party apparatchiks were waging a whispering campaign against her. Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer, the only candidate to have avoided claims of dirty tricks, said the string of allegations and counter-allegations were "staining" the contest.

Lord Archer complained that, by leaking news of the possibility of a fresh probe against him, Labour was engaged in a "pre-planned smear".

He said: "Over the last few weeks, we have seen the Prime Minister see off Nick Raynsford, bribe Trevor Phillips, rubbish Glenda Jackson, smear Ken Livingstone, and now it's my turn."

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers triggered his fury by ordering a top civil servant to examine whether "new evidence" about the Anglia share deal warranted a full scale inquiry.

Acting for his Kurdish associate Broosk Saib, Lord Archer was alleged to have bought 50,000 shares just days before a takeover bid, selling them on within hours at a profit of £77,219.

Lord Archer, against whom previous inquiries had recommended no action be taken, insisted there would be no new probe.

But Mr Byers stressed today that it was Lord Archer's own solicitors who had raised the share deal again by writing to the Economist magazine insisting that he had not bought the shares.

"It is not my responsibility to decide whether or not there should be a fresh investigation into share dealing with Anglia Television," Mr Byers said. Meanwhile, the Conservatives demanded an official investigation into claims that Mr Dobson breached the Data Protection Act by using Labour Party records to send letters to all 68,000 London Labour Party members.

Despite claiming Mr Dobson as an old friend, Ms Jackson told London radio station LBC she would be writing to Labour General Secretary Margaret McDonagh about the affair.

"I'm not particularly au fait with the alleged breaches of the act, but I do know that members of my own constituency party have contacted my campaign office expressing their concern," she said.

Mr Dobson insisted his campaign team had done nothing wrong. "Under the Labour Party rules, Labour Party MPs and MEPs have access to the lists of members in their constituencies and, as I have the support of the vast majority of MPs and MEPs, they have passed on to me their lists, which I am making use of as a Labour candidate to get in touch with Labour Party members," he said.

One London Labour party member questioned that statement. Unison London convenor Geoff Martin, a Ken Livingstone supporter from Sutton, said he had received a Dobson letter despite having neither a Labour MP nor an MEP. "I think itÿs very clear that Frank Dobson and his team have had access to the London Labour Party membership lists," Mr Martin claimed.

Meanwhile, Lord Archer's former arch-rival, Tory former transport minister Steve Norris, insisted he took no pleasure in the peer's discomfort.

"I am sure that Jeffrey will want to give him (Byers) every assistance so Jeffrey can clear it all up once and for all," he said.

Mr Norris was speaking at the Regent's Park launch of a new £10 million permanent walk-way through London attended by the prospective mayoral candidates.

Lord Archer and Mr Livingstone left the event together, seemingly the best of friends with Lord Archer saying: "Here he is, here's my deputy."

In an apparent alliance with Lord Archer against Labour party officials, former GLC leader Mr Livingstone said: "We're walking off into the sunset together like a couple of old gays at a wedding."

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