Socialist Worker

Livingstone a focus for mood against Blair

Issue No. 1672

LABOUR LEADERS are to announce next Tuesday who will be allowed to stand in the vote to decide the party's candidate for London mayor. They have still not said whether they will allow Ken Livingstone to be on the ballot paper. Party leaders could even be set to bar Livingstone from standing to become Labour's candidate, according to a report in the Observer last Sunday.

Even if Tony Blair and his supporters don't carry out this threat, they have already manoeuvred heavily to make sure their favoured candidate, Frank Dobson, wins the Labour vote. Labour leaders first abandoned the 'one member one vote' system they themselves had previously championed. Instead they set up an 'electoral college' system, in which a single Labour MP's vote will be worth 900 ordinary party members' votes or 5,720 trade union members' votes.

Then party leaders used technical grounds to disqualify some unions, including the RMT and MSF, from the vote. The barred unions had declared that they were supporting Livingstone. Finally, it emerged last week that the Frank Dobson campaign was given exclusive access to party membership files. Livingstone could still win the Labour vote despite all this fixing, which is why party leaders are considering keeping him off the shortlist of candidates altogether.

Party members and trade unionists fed up with the direction of the government are desperate to see someone stand up to Blair, and are flocking to back Livingstone. Only two weeks ago 450 attended a Livingstone rally in central London. Around 150 students came to hear him speak at a meeting at King's College London. At last Saturday's rally for rail safety in London one of the biggest cheers went up when Livingstone said, 'I will do all in my power to stop the privatisation of London Underground.'

There are times, though, when he strikes a different note. A few months ago Livingstone wrote an open letter to Tony Blair in the Guardian newspaper saying, 'There is simply no question of me seeking to use the mayorship platform to wage political warfare against this government.' He is, however, seen by most people as someone who represents an alternative voice to New Labour, and everyone who wants to stand up to Blair should back Ken Livingstone.


Labour members debate

AROUND 90 members of Southgate Labour Party attended a hustings meeting over the party's London mayor candidate vote last Sunday. The Labour members had gathered in the north London constituency to hear the three Labour candidates, Frank Dobson, Ken Livingstone and Glenda Jackson. In the event only Dobson was able to make the meeting.

Inside there was a lot of disquiet about the way Blair is handling the election. 'I support Frank Dobson,' said Antony. 'But I believe we must beat Ken Livingstone fair and square. If he is stopped from standing I will resign my membership. There will be a civil war inside our party.'

Dobson did very little to inspire his supporters at the meeting. He made a lacklustre speech in which he insisted, 'I back the government's plans for London Underground. I have no ideological commitment to nationalisation.'

Alex joined the Labour Party just before the 1997 general election and attended Sunday's meeting. 'I thought Tony Blair was going to change things. All my friends are unhappy with the government. It was wrong when we cut disabled benefits. It is not what our party should be about. Dobson is Blair's man - you've just got to vote for Ken Livingstone.'

In the end about 60 percent of the audience backed Ken Livingstone. But many who did also expressed doubts about him. Paul Renny was involved in the Enfield Committee Against the War in the Balkans: 'I was disappointed when Livingstone backed the war in the Balkans. I am still going to vote for Ken because he represents the left in the party. He is the only candidate who defends the public ownership of transport. We must not let this campaign be all about personalities. It must be about the policies.'

Gary, a Labour Party member since 1972, added, 'I will be voting for Ken Livingstone, because he is the most left wing candidate. I've been driving buses since 1978. I remember Livingstone and the GLC's Fares Fair campaign. Yes, it was a great success, but Livingstone capitulated when the Tories went running to the courts. Livingstone is promising to stop tube privatisation. I hope he keeps his word.'


Rash of meetings set

ACTIVISTS ARE setting up hustings and public meetings across London to discuss Labour's candidate for the mayor of London.

On Tuesday Frank Dobson, Glenda Jackson and Ken Livingstone were due to speak at a public forum called by the GMB union's Heathrow airport branches. One GMB branch secretary told Socialist Worker, 'There is massive enthusiasm around the airport for this meeting. The privatisation of the air traffic control network will be the key issue for many airport workers.'

On hearing that Hackney MP Brian Sedgemore had announced that he was going to back Frank Dobson, local Socialist Workers Party branches organised a petition. They are calling on Sedgemore to back Livingstone and will be presenting the petition to Sedgemore at his MP's surgery on 18 November.

Rail workers from the RMT and ASLEF unions have organised a debate between all three candidates on Tuesday 16 November. Finn Brennan, secretary of East Finchley and Golders Green ASLEF branch, said, 'We are fighting for the maximum turnout. Ken Livingstone is the only Labour candidate who is opposed to the privatisation of London Underground. We are going to use the London mayor election as a launchpad to stop privatisation.'

In Livingstone's own constituency of Brent, union branches are coming together to organise a public debate on Labour's mayoral candidate. So far local GMB, UNI SON and FBU union branches and Brent Trades Council have sponsored the meeting, which is set for 5 December. Brian Butterworth is secretary of Brent council UNISON branch and one of the organisers of the meeting. He says, 'Ken Livingstone is being asked to speak at hundreds of meetings across London. But when he found out that both Jackson and Dobson had agreed to speak at our debate he immediately agreed to come.'

Lecturers at Southwark College have organised a hustings meeting on 13 December.


Where they stand

WHERE DO the three would-be Labour candidates stand on key issues?

Disabled benefits:

Frank Dobson voted to cut the benefits in last week's parliamentary vote. Glenda Jackson claims she is not a Blairite. But she too voted for the cuts. Ken Livingstone voted against the cuts.

Transport:

Glenda Jackson was New Labour's transport minister until recently. She helped draw up plans to privatise London Underground. Frank Dobson backs the privatisation of London Underground. Ken Livingstone opposes the privatisation of London Underground.


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Article information

Features
Sat 13 Nov 1999, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1672
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