'THE ELECTORAL college has nothing to do with democracy. It has everything to do with keeping Ken out.' That is how one Labour MP, speaking to the Times newspaper, summed up Tony Blair's desperate attempt to block Ken Livingstone from becoming Labour's candidate for mayor of London. Even would be candidate Glenda Jackson, who was a government minister, complained that the selection procedure had the appearance of a 'stitch up'.
Unlike both Glenda Jackson and Blair's favoured candidate Frank Dobson, Livingstone is the only candidate who is opposed to the privatisation of London's Underground. This is the main reason why the opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of Londoners would vote for Livingstone if they were given the chance. But Blair is determined to block him.
New Labour leaders announced that Labour's candidate for mayor would be selected using the electoral college system. MPs, MEPs and candidates for the London regional authority will have a third of the votes. Trade unions and societies affiliated to Labour will have another third. Ordinary London Labour Party members will get the final third of the vote.
Blair's arithmetic is simple. Already almost every MP, MEP and regional candidate has declared their support for Dobson. Under the college system, that alone gives Dobson about half the votes needed to win outright.
The leadership of the party is pouring massive resources into getting Dobson elected. The London Evening Standard revealed that Labour Party HQ is urging all London's 57 Labour MPs to write to their constituency members urging them to vote for Dobson. Leaders of the AEEU union are out to help Blair too. All other unions plan to ballot members, which is likely to favour Livingstone.
But AEEU leader Sir Ken Jackson wants to cast the union's vote, worth 10 percent of the total union vote, without any ballot. Already a campaign is being organised by electricians belonging to the AEEU in London. They will be demanding that every AEEU member in London gets a vote.
The clock is ticking. The shortlist of Labour candidates for mayor will be announced on November 16. Blair has already stated that he wants Labour's candidate to be in place before Christmas. Socialists will be campaigning hard in support of Livingstone in the coming weeks.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear. Blair's desperate manoeuvring to block Livingstone, who would walk any fair contest, should nail the myth that New Labour policies are any more popular in the south of England than they are in Scotland.