Why Ken brings out the anarchist in us Tories

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The Independent Online

The news that Tony Blair has admitted that he is not infallible should give heart to voters as they face the nightmare choice of who to back for the London mayoral race - thankfully less than four weeks away. The Prime Minister has finally conceded, in his attempts last year to block Rhodri Morgan from becoming the First Secretary of Wales, that "I would have to say I got that judgement wrong."

He has acknowledged that "essentially you have to let go of it with devolution". Well, bully for Mr Blair. What a shame he did not work this out in time to spare him and us the shambles of the Labour selection process in London. He would have avoided wrecking the life of poor old Frank Dobson, who could have been put out of his misery months ago if he had been allowed to be defeated by Ken Livingstone.

The Labour Party has ensured that Tories, such as me, who have an anarchist streak will vote in their droves for Mr Livingstone, in a way they would not have done if he had been simply another Labour candidate. We want to give Mr Blair a bloody nose, and there is no better opportunity than sending Red Ken with a resounding victory to the mayoral headquarters.

Tories for Ken will be one of the most powerful blocks of support he will enjoy. It is estimated, according to the latest opinion polls, that approximately 40 per cent of London Tories are likely to desert their own candidate, Steve Norris, in favour of Mr Livingstone; and I will be one of them.

"You must be mad," say some of my saner friends and more loyal Norris backers. I have nothing against Mr Norris, who is probably the best candidate the Tories have got. If he had been selected in the first place, instead of Lord Archer, he would have had a head start on the Labour Party and may have been able to establish himself as the main opponent of control- freakery. As things now stand, however, it is Mr Livingstone who represents the people against the control freaks.

It is not so much that we think Mr Livingstone will necessarily be a better mayor than anyone else. He probably won't be. And I dare say that within a short space of time we will quickly tire of him. As time goes by, a month after his election, a year after his election - and certainly by the time of the next mayoral contest - we will have had our fill of him.

I suspect that public transport, traffic congestion and crime will all get worse, whoever runs the show. However, we do think that somehow Mr Livingstone will make the tubes run on time. Quite how he will do this, if the Government is determined to stymie his plans, is unclear to most of us - but "if he can't sort it out, no one else can", as one of my fellow- travelling anarchist Tories said to me. Tories may like privatisation as a general policy, and it may, given time, even be seen to work for the railways. However, our current perception is that it has failed the railways and that it would be a disaster for the Underground.

Ken knows that Tory voters, as much as the wider electorate, have now tired of privatisation, which is why they are fearful of Mr Norris. Mr Norris was heavily involved in the last Tory government's meddling with the railways. The mere mention of "privatisation" is enough to strike terror into Tories who live in the leafy suburbs and for whom the two- hour daily grind on the Tube into central London is their main concern. The people who dumped on the Tories most heavily at the last election were those who live in the constituencies at the end of every tube line, those who experienced the longest journeys into work. Many of these Tories switched and voted Labour.

But for the past three years, after being promised that "things can only get better" the tube has got worse. So Mr Dobson's claim that he can deal Mr Prescott's "public/private partnership" policy for the tube still reminds us of this decline and the consequences of even semi-privatisation. Those Tories who decided to give Labour a chance in 1997 are ready to seek their revenge for the failure to deliver on tube improvements by taking it out on Frank Dobson, while they are still not ready to forgive Mr Norris his days in the last Tory government.

Mr Livingstone is remembered through the murky fog of time for his illegal, but highly popular, "fares fair" policy. Voters, including Tories, loved it. For this reason alone they, and I, am prepared to forgive him nearly all his other sins. The fuss about his non-registration of his outside earnings, the attempt to embarrass him over a loan from his company and the second home he and his partner share in Brighton have absolutely no impact on us. Frankly, Ken could commit daylight robbery and 100 murders in Piccadilly Circus and most of us would avert our gaze.

Of course, supporting Livingstone for mayor is not a cry for Red Ken's barmy policies of the 1980s. Few Tory electors who are going to vote for him agree with many of his policies on Ireland or his assiduous courting of this or that sexual or ethnic minority. Most of the blue rinse Tory ladies, who are deserting the Conservative camp in droves, simply think that Mr Livingstone is far more likely to cause grief to Tony Blair and John Prescott than Mr Norris. A Tory mayor would be under pressure to co-operate with the system. In theory, this applies to Mr Livingstone. But without his party ticket, he would be so much more the property of the voters that it would be a foolish assembly and central government that did not allow him, "in the name of the people", to implement his transport policies.

I hope that the Conservative Party (and for that matter, the Labour Party) will learn that the most valuable lesson of this election is the need for wider and earlier participation by voters in the selection process. I believe that the American primary system whereby party supporters - voters - as well as party members can register to participate in in the choice of the candidate should be considered. This would have created greater legitimacy for Steve Norris after the Archer debacle, which has portrayed him as the Tories' second choice. The backlash against both Mr Dobson and Mr Norris is due, in part, to the feeling that 5 million people have had no choice in their selection.

Mr Livingstone, by contrast, represents the symbolic reaction of Conservative voters who feel that they have been bounced by just a few hundred party members. By voting for Mr Livingstone we provide ourselves with the opportunity to have a sense of "ownership" of the mayoralty. We also give ourselves the chance to thumb our noses at Tony Blair and at the two-party process by voting for someone who appears, even if only momentarily, to have captured our mood.

This may well be a passing phase, and if we return to traditional party politics in future elections it will be because the main parties have recognised the need for greater voter participation in the selection of the candidates. But, in the meantime, the desire to be bloody-minded and enjoy the thrill of behaving like anarchists is too much for Tories who want to embarrass Mr Blair to resist - even if we may pay for it later.

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