We're risking our chance of winning the mayoral race

'It will be all too easy for Archer to ridicule Labour's selection process and candidate'
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Indy Politics

AFTER TWO years of press briefings by Labour Party officials that Labour's candidate for mayor of London would be selected in a one-member-one-vote ballot of all 69,000 members in London, there is bound to be some confusion now that a completely different system has been dredged up.

AFTER TWO years of press briefings by Labour Party officials that Labour's candidate for mayor of London would be selected in a one-member-one-vote ballot of all 69,000 members in London, there is bound to be some confusion now that a completely different system has been dredged up.

A London version of Labour's electoral college in which party members get only a third of the votes, trade unionists get only a third, but the 57 London Labour MPs, four London MEPs and the 14 candidates for the Greater London Assembly get a third is clearly completely unbalanced. Each MP's vote will be worth a thousand times more than that of a London Labour Party member.

The Labour Party justifies this last-minute change by saying that the mayor of London "is a position analogous to the role of First Minister of Scotland and First Secretary in Wales. There is, therefore, logic in adopting the same principle of selection as used in these cases viz an electoral college". Unfortunately, it omits to remind us that in Scotland there was only one candidate - Donald Dewar - who unsurprisingly won 99.9 per cent of the vote.

An even worse precedent was set in Wales. Although Rhodri Morgan had the support of more than two thirds of Welsh Labour Party members, he was defeated when George Wright, regional secretary of the Welsh TGWU, emerged from the gloomy shadows to cast a block vote of his union for Alun Michael even though independent polls showed that his members supported Rhodri by two to one.

Although Labour's electoral college for London may replicate the logic of the Scottish and Welsh experience, we need to remember that Labour failed to get a majority in either body and was only able to form administrations with the consent of other parties after behind-the-scenes wheeler-dealing. The situation with London's mayor is different in that he will only be elected if he gains a majority of the votes cast. For Labour to win the position of mayor we have to make sure that all the transferred votes from the Liberals and the Greens come our way. In June's Euro elections, the Labour vote was down to 35 per cent and we would have needed all the Liberal and Green votes to scrape the narrowest of majorities.

The very real danger facing Labour must be that the initial unfavourable press response to this method of selecting Labour's candidate reflects public opinion only too well. If we are now going to see a succession of rows about how trade unions' votes are cast with the issue perhaps being finally decided by the votes of MEPs, then it will be all too easy for Lord Archer to ridicule the process and the candidate. There is little chance that Liberal and Green voters will swing behind a Labour candidate who has been selected by a very old Labour fix.

There is obviously no chance that the Labour leadership will drop the electoral college now that it is committed to it, but those of us who believe in participatory democracy should argue for real improvements in the process. The very welcome announcement that Unison intends to ballot all its members is clearly the right decision after the aura of smoke-filled rooms that surrounded the Welsh selection. Trade union leaders in London will be rightly concerned to avoid a repeat of the Welsh débacle where their counterparts were blamed for the public perception of a fix.

On the assumption that London's unions will not repeat the mistakes made in Wales and will conduct proper ballots of their members, media attention is more likely to focus on the disproportionate power of MPs, MEPs and the 14 assembly candidates. These 71 people will cast a third of all the votes and will be susceptible to all the pressures of the Whips' office and the enticements of advancement. The only way that this can be countered is if these people cast their votes after consultation with the people they represent.

There should be an immediate campaign to persuade Labour's leadership that the 1,050 Labour councillors in London should be included in this section of the electoral college. Not only would this dilute the influence of any one individual MP, but it would bring to bear the practical experience of those people who are running local government in London and will have to work much more closely with the mayor than most MPs or MEPs will.

Labour will win in London if it stands its strongest candidate against Jeffrey Archer. Certainly the Labour Party will be irrevocably damaged if there is any hint of a fix. We must do everything we can between now and the close of the Labour ballot to democratise this selection so that the Tories cannot exploit any weak points next May.

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