The collective shudder from Tony Blair and the New Labour hierarchy would have come just after 12.45pm yesterday as Ken Livingstone stood triumphant - within sight of the Houses of Parliament - in his first public appearance as the elected Mayor of London.
So intense was the adulation of the crowd that the self proclaimed tribune of the people had to be rescued by the police, who whisked him off, sirens blaring, as befits a man of his newly acquired importance.
Inside the Queen Elizabeth II conference building, where the count had taken place, stood Mr Blair's candidate, Frank Dobson, a man not just defeated but broken. He had not only lost but been humiliated, narrowly escaping coming fourth behind Susan Kramer of the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Dobson's family, friends and advisers circled him. They could offer little but sympathy. But even that was more than he was getting from Millbank, the party apparatchiks dismissing him as a failure.
The official anointment of Mr Livingstone came at 12.18, in an announcement that had been delayed for seven hours bythe electoral equivalent of "leaves on the line" - in this case the "wrong sort" of green baize on tables, which gave out fluff and clogged up vote-counting machines.
After a night of unfulfilled expectation of a result declaration, the scene inside the QEII Centre was one of discarded coffee and tea cups, soft-drink cans and tired journalists. Among the candidates were Ram Gidoomal, leader of the Christian People's Alliance, who explained how well his party had done considering it was so new, and Darren Johnson, of the Greens, savouring his party's performance and looking forward to a meeting with the new Mayor. "We shall be holding talks and obviously we are looking forward to playing a role in his administration," said Mr Johnson. "We have got a lot in common."
Mr Livingstone stood on the podium in a conference room, one of 11 candidates but undoubtedly the star. Dressed in a khaki suit, white shirt and dark green tie, with scruffy brown shoes, he looked tired and pale. The previous night, said his aides, had seen a hell of a party. He quoted Churchill - about the need for magnanimity in victory - praising his fellow candidates and saying he would be asking "several of them" to join his administration.
"In particular," Mr Livingstone continued, "I want to say a word about my old colleague and friend, Frank Dobson, who has borne a terrible brunt of odium ..." The odium, he said, "could have rightly been reserved for people who were behind the scenes. And I say, Frank, I hope we are still friends and I hope we are going to work together in the future".
The celebrations for the Livingstone camp had begun the night before at a Thai restaurant, Silk and Spice, where he was surrounded by 600 friends and supporters.Mr Livingstone left the party in the early hours to return to his home at Cricklewood, north-west London, emerging in the morning to face a media scrum that would accompany him to a health centre in Millbank where he was planning to have a swim.
He travelled by Tube, and the train promptly broke down. Emerging at Westminster station he said such delays would not be tolerated. "It is ridiculous," he said.
Ever the showman, Mr Livingstone then took the circus of photographers and cameramen to the sports club, only to succumb to an unexpected outbreak of coyness. "No, no, no, no, you can't film me in the pool," he said, adding: "An 84-year-old man floundering around the Yangtse river is not the image I want."
The reference to the late Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung was lost on most of the snappers as well as several foreign television crews, who were immediately on their mobile phones to Mr Livingstone's press officers demanding to know whether this was a cryptic clue to an important piece of future policy.
Soon afterwards, Londoners watched in puzzlement as their soon-to-be-mayor set off running down the street. Apparently he was "just having a bit of fun" with the photographers, and he stopped after a while to be photographed in front of the St Stephen's entrance to the House of Commons, where bus and taxi drivers and private motorists blew their horns and shouted their congratulations.
The other leading candidates had already arrived at the QEII Centre. Steven Norris, the Tory candidate, claimed beating the official Labour representative into third place was a triumph. "What a privilege it is to be the first person to congratulate Ken Livingstone on a quite remarkable win," he said. "It's hard to pin down the Livingstone phenomenon - I think people were bored with conventional politics. They thought, 'Let's give the cheeky chappie a run'."
For Mr Dobson, however, it was an invitation to a hanging. He had spent more than two hours having breakfast with his wife, Janet, before arriving at the centre. He was forced to put his arm around his wife and shield her from the thrusting lenses and flashbulbs, and at one stage, as the pushing became intense, Mr Dobson said: "Stay away from my wife."
Mr Blair had apparently sent his commiserations to his former health secretary even before the poll closed. But the sheer scale of the misery was etched on Mr Dobson's face when it came to his turn to speak. His voice strained as he said: "It was not always easy. Our message was right but we found it hard to get it across. As the principal messenger I must bear the responsibility for that and I hope I have not let them down."
An hour later Mr Livingstone was ensconced at his office in the temporary home of the Greater London Authority, Romney House. He had, said his aides, begun work almost immediately on his new job of sorting out the capital.
Then, 14 years after he was removed from office by Margaret Thatcher, Mr Livingstone faced the media to outline his plans. The voice still had the nasal whine but the words were positively statesmanlike.
"The job of the Mayor is to unite all of the capital," he said. "I will immediately be taking measures to involve all parties in the government of this city. This process of consultation has already begun. People have asked whether the Mayor wants to co-operate with Downing Street. I have already stated that the answer is a simple yes. But the Government must also co-operate with London."
So far it was all going according to the script. But then, speaking about the crisis at Ford's Dagenham factory, Mr Livingstone suddenly started to attack the strength of the pound and how it was hampering manufacturing and exports. The exchange rate is outside his remit, but who knows where the ambition of the newest Comeback Kid will take him.Reuse content