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FEATURES - LONDON I

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As Labour continue to debate their choice of candidate, Nicky Gavron is plugging on with her own mayoral campaign, ...
As Labour continue to debate their choice of candidate, Nicky Gavron is plugging on with her own mayoral campaign, she tells David Harding

When Interviewing Nicky Gavron there is only one place to start. Do you really think you will be Labour's mayoral candidate next summer? There is a pause. It lasts several seconds but seems longer. Ms Gavron is struggling to find the right words to say.

'I don't want to go into this, to be honest,' she says at last. 'I haven't got into it with anyone else.' She then mentions the formal 'correction statement', which her team put out at the beginning of November to clarify matters. It spoke of a 'debate going in the party'. This made the dispute over whether she or London mayor Ken Livingstone will be running for Labour next summer sound like a genteel parish council debate rather than a hard-headed contest for who should run for the post with the biggest mandate for a single politician in the country.

The smart money is still on Mr Livingstone returning to the fold and running on the Labour ticket. But behind the scenes it is clear that some in the party believe it is far from a foregone conclusion.

Media reports suggesting he was a shoo-in have proved wide of the mark. Ms Gavron has been to 10 Downing Street to meet prime minister Tony Blair and party chairman Ian McCartney to discuss it all. She initiated the meeting 'which lasted 30 minutes - it might have been a bit longer' to try and bring a swift resolution to the issue. And her reputed 'hardball' tactics and demanding compensation - such as a seat in the Lords if she does stand down - has thrown the matter into further doubt.

Above all, Ms Gavron says, she wants what is in the 'best interests' of the party. All should become clearer on 16 December when a National Executive Committee meeting discusses Mr Livingstone's controversial readmission to the party. Mr Livingstone has made enough enemies to put his return in doubt. If no decision is made by then, the issue will drag into the New Ye ar.

'There are people who want Ken to make an early return and there are people who don't,' says Ms Gavron.

Some argue that only he can win the election. Ms Gavron, unsurprisingly down in the polls given all the speculation about her position, is next year's 'Susan Kramer' according to one Labour member within the Greater London Authority.

Ms Kramer was the anonymous Liberal Democrat candidate at the last mayoral election, who trailed in fourth.

'It has been very frustrating for me because I was going up quite nicely in the polls. I was about to overtake [Liberal Democrat candidate] Simon Hughes when the rumours [about Mr Livingstone] started. I haven't been able to put out my policy stuff.'

That policy stuff emphasises test-driving new ideas for the city, including introducing guided buses and a tourist tax so London can raise revenue rather than rely on a handout from the chancellor and council tax. A £1 charge on the hotel bills of the 118 million tourists who stay overnight in the capital each year could provide much-needed finance.

Ultimately, her ideas could end up as part of Mr Livingstone's campaign but, for the moment, she is plugging on with her own campaign. She continues with the political invective, dismissing opponents Steven Norris, the Tory runner, as the Jarvis candidate and Simon Hughes as 'the mayor of Wonderland'.

Politically experienced though Ms Gavron is, the past few weeks seem to have taken their toll. Her exceptionally busy diary means this interview takes place late on a Friday night and even then after numerous attempts on the phone.

'It has been quite an experience. I am amazed by the lengths people will go to. It is almost like a blood sport.

It gives people a lot of pleasure,' she says.

But perhaps not Ms Gavron herself, who gives the impression that she is none too comfortable with a first-hand view of such political machinations. She jokes about having her 'Martin Bashir interview' after the whole saga is over. The rumpus over who stand s all seems a little unfair on the engaging and amiable Ms Gavron.

At the end of a long week she admits the interview should have been conducted over a glass of wine rather than in the GLA offices, splendid as they are. Ms Gavron is obviously proud of the GLA and London. After chatting she goes up onto the roof of City Hall to point out the views and the ant-like people milling around below. She first came to the capital as a student at the Courtauld Institute and has never left. She helped build up the publishing company of her former husband Lord Gavron. It has left her financially secure for life.

'I helped my ex-husband build up his business. When I met him he was about to be made bankrupt.' The assistance she gave has made her a millionaire.

'I wouldn't dream of denying it,' she says.

Her mother was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who fled Hitler to come to the UK. A nurse, she found herself in Malvern, unmarried and pregnant.

Her mother, who died five years ago, did not like to speak about her past but she still provided an inspiration for her daughter.

'I worked Labour out for myself and I think that was very much to do with my mother's experience and the fact that I had a huge sense of injustice on her behalf,' says Ms Gavron. But it could be that an injustice is about to be visited upon her by the party she loves.

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