'I FEEL ashamed to say that I'm a member of the London Labour Party. The shenanigans that are taking place to stop Ken from becoming mayor are a disgrace. This has nothing to do with democratic socialism. It is more like Stalin's Russia.'
These were the words of Frank Davies, a Labour Party member for over 30 years. He was one of 450 people who crammed into the Camden Centre in central London last Saturday to hear Ken Livingstone speak on his bid to become Labour's candidate for London mayor.
Labour leaders are using every dirty trick in the book to try and block Livingstone and ensure Blair's favourite, Frank Dobson, is selected. Most of Livingstone's speech last Saturday was devoted to tackling London's failing transport system.
He rejected New Labour's privatisation plans for London Underground, saying, 'I pledge that I will keep London Underground in the public sector.' In the wake of the Paddington crash it was a breath of fresh air to hear a Labour MP condemn privatisation.
In the past Livingstone has said there was no fundamental disagreement between himself and Tony Blair. Livingstone also made the terrible mistake of backing Blair and NATO in the war in the Balkans. But the scale of the attack on Livingstone by those at the top of the Labour Party meant that at last Saturday's meeting he was pushed to sharply distance himself from Blair.
And on one of the major issues in London - transport and the future of the underground - there is a clear divide between Livingstone and his Labour opponents. Livingstone said, 'If I'm elected as mayor I'm going to stop Railtrack even taking over a toilet on London Underground.'
By contrast, two hours later and just three miles down the road Trevor Phillips was speaking. Phillips is running as deputy to Frank Dobson. He dismissed out of hand anyone who spoke out against privatisation. 'We have to be realistic - nationalisation is not an option,' he said. The election for mayor of London is becoming a referendum on transport. That is why anyone who wants to stop tube privatisation and stand up to Tony Blair should back Ken Livingstone.
Rules for who?
'IT'S A scandal. Over 20,000 union members in London have been denied a vote. The only reason these unions have been barred is because they would have backed Livingstone.' That was the reaction of an ASLEF regional officer on hearing the news that Labour leaders have barred three unions from taking part in the contest to select the party's candidate for mayor.
London members of the white collar MSF union, the transport union RMT and media union BECTU were disqualified because they had failed to pay their yearly Labour affiliation fee. Two branches of the ASLEF rail union have also been disqualified for the same reason. Leaders of ASLEF, the MSF and RMT had said they would recommend a Livingstone vote. Labour Party officials announced to the press that 'rules are rules'.
But when it suits the Labour Party leadership it is quite happy to bend the rules. Many local Labour Party branches would have been excluded from the election of Labour's Greater London Authority (GLA) candidates because they were behind in their affiliation fee payments. But before the GLA election Labour Party leaders contacted them to remind them to send their money in.
'I feel cheated'
RUTH CLARKE is a Labour Party constituency secretary in south east London who spoke at last Saturday's Livingstone rally. She said, 'I felt cheated when they announced the electoral college. It was obvious to everyone that it was being used to block Ken Livingstone. It looks like a fix. As a constituency secretary I get a good insight into the workings of Dobson's campaign. I get calls all the time from Siobhan McDonagh [Frank Dobson's election coordinator] and Labour Party HQ trying to put pressure on me to back Frank Dobson. It was more difficult than ever to get Labour Party members out to canvass in the Euro elections. How much harder will it be if they stitch Ken up? This campaign is about the future of the Labour Party in London.'
Vote can help build the fight
AT SATURDAY'S meeting Ken Livingstone attacked Sir Ken Jackson, the right wing leader of the AEEU union, for refusing to ballot its members over who the union should back as Labour candidate.
The AEEU is now the only union refusing to hold such a vote. The audience cheered when Livingstone said, 'Don't forget it was the EETPU, one of the founders of the AEEU, that brought the scabs into Wapping. Drop the smears, Jackson. Let your engineers and electricians vote.'
A host of Livingstone's supporters also spoke at the rally. Lucy Craig, a Labour councillor from Haringey, north London, was one. She said, 'Manipulation and gerrymandering. That's what is going on inside the London Labour Party.'
Afterwards Socialist Worker talked to some of those who attended the rally. Ranu from east London said, 'Coming here today and listening to all the speakers has made it clear to me that there is a stitch up. Everyone has got to go out and campaign for Ken Livingstone.' Another member of the audience added, 'I hope Livingstone keeps his word and stands up to Blair.'
The way Labour's voting system is rigged to favour Frank Dobson means even if Livingstone gets a clear majority of Labour members and union members it is not guaranteed he will win. But whatever happens, the bigger the size of the Livingstone vote the better. It will show the size of the pool of people who want an alternative to Blair's policies. And it can be the basis for building the struggles that will be decisive in making such an alternative a reality.
Source of names
FRANK DOBSON'S campaign team is doing everything it can to get him elected as candidate for London mayor. All candidates in the election have been denied access to the membership list of London Labour Party members. But last week party members all over London received election material from Frank Dobson. Many asked how Frank Dobson got hold of their addresses.
Labour Party HQ was quick to issue a statement denying that it handed the membership lists to Frank Dobson. Yet names spelt wrongly on Labour Party official mailings also appear with the same mistakes on Dobson's election material. Dobson then said he got the lists of party members from MPs who supported his campaign. Journalists pointed out that Labour Party members in Livingstone's Brent constituency also received mailings from Frank Dobson. There was no way Livingstone would have handed him the list. Dobson changed his story to claim he was handed the membership list by the local MEP!
THE LABOUR MAYORAL DEBATE
The future for transport in London
Tuesday 16 November 7.30pm, Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, NW1 (opp Euston stn). Called by ASLEF, RMT, TSSA