ONE THING you could not accuse my opponents of is inconsistency. Like the captain of the Titanic, nothing is going to stop Frank Dobson's advisors from steering their ship of spin towards a direct collision with the iceberg of public opinion. So bent is Frank's crew on attracting bad publicity that some mischievous people will start wondering if they are secretly in my pocket. (I couldn't afford them).
The tactic of Frank's supporters in seeking the nomination as Labour's candidate for London mayor is simple. They know that the arithmetic in the electoral college does not currently add up to a Dobson victory, but they believe that a sustained campaign of vitriol over my record from senior Labour figures will be enough to whittle down my lead among the party's membership and allow Frank to squeeze through. It is a logical but distasteful project. No one ever said politics was a nice business.
Unfortunately for the spin doctors and former party apparatchiks, their approach is not going down well. My campaign office has already received dozens of calls from outraged party members appalled at Neil Kinnock's latest letter to them. (Frank Dobson's campaign has paid for a letter from Neil to be sent to every party member in the non-Labour seats). Direct from Brussels, Neil has taken a break from the hectic life of a European Commissioner to tell Londoners who to vote for. He argues that my record at the Greater London Council (GLC) gave substance to "loony left" stories in the press, and drove voters away from Labour.
It is time to set the record straight. Under Michael Foot's leadership of the party, two years after I became leader of the GLC, the Tory lead over Labour in the 1983 general election was 2 per cent smaller in London than in the rest of the country. By December 1983, Labour was doing 12 per cent better in London than nationally.
By March 1984, Labour led the Tories by 10 per cent in London, compared with a Tory lead over Labour nationally of 2 per cent. That, of course, was when Mr Kinnock was leading Labour. By September 1984, Labour's lead in London was 28 per cent, while Labour was still 4 per cent behind the Tories nationally.
The London electorate will not be persuaded that its memory is wrong. The last poll conducted by Mori on the GLC's record was in March 1998. It found that, more than 10 years after its abolition, 51 per cent of Londoners still think the GLC did a good job. The poll also found that most Londoners thought that London had actually got worse since the GLC's abolition.
There is a good reason for this. Londoners remember that it was only under the Labour GLC administration of 1981-86 that public transport in the capital improved. During our first fares package - Fares Fair - passengers increased by 11 per cent and the number of cars entering London during morning peak hours fell by 6 per cent. Despite the best attempts of the British establishment's most Jurassic elements - notably Lord Denning - to scupper the GLC's transport policies in the courts, we were able to continue to make a difference. We introduced free travel on the Underground. By 1984, a "Taxicard" scheme operated London-wide, allowing anyone who was blind or had walking disabilities to pay a flat-rate of pounds 1 for any fare up to pounds 6, with the GLC paying the difference. In 1982, Dial-a-Ride was introduced for wheelchair users, covering the whole of London by 1985.
In all, between 1982 and 1986, the GLC's policies for the Underground had led to a 70 per cent increase in passenger kilometres, a cut in fares of 35 per cent, and a revenue increase of 11 per cent.
Throughout the last two years of the GLC, Labour in London polled consistently 10 to 20 per cent ahead of Labour nationally. The brutal fact about the abolition of the GLC was that Mrs Thatcher was threatened by our ideological assault on all the reactionary things she stood for. She could also see that the Tories could not win the GLC back. Once Londoners had been able to see that our transport policies worked, our polling improved steadily. Mrs Thatcher abolished the GLC because we made it a Labour stronghold. I am fighting now to retain that Labour lead in London.
It is for these concrete political reasons, not some rose-tinted collective amnesia, that Londoners want to vote for a Labour candidate for mayor who is on their side. The polls now show that this is exactly what is happening. Yesterday's ICM poll, which bore out the earlier polls in the Evening Standard and The Mail on Sunday, indicate that as the Labour candidate I would beat Jeffrey Archer by 63 to 25 per cent. With Frank as the candidate, Labour is reduced to 44 per cent, against 38 per cent for Archer. That is actually a dip of two percentage points since the last poll, when Frank was on 46 per cent.
So that's where we are after weeks of bile and a sustained campaign of vitriol against Labour's record at the GLC. Frank's advisors have managed to reduce his support with the public by 2 per cent.
My strategy over the next few weeks is simply to stick to the issues that concern London voters. The challenge for London's mayor will be to inspire and harness the creative energies released by the return of democratic government to transform the lives of every Londoner. It is important that this agenda reaches out to Labour's core support, the very people most likely to be put off by the current negative campaigning. That cannot be done by resorting to a slanging match. I will now do everything I can to ensure that there is no negative campaigning during the selection of our candidate for mayor.
I am sure that both Glenda Jackson and Frank Dobson would make fine Labour mayors. I have always stated clearly my confidence in the abilities and record of the other Labour candidates. The tactic of tearing Labour apart in the capital is not one I wish to indulge in.
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