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LONDON CANDIDATES 'TOO SMALL FOR MAYORAL BOOTS'

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Evening Standard editor Max Hastings has called on Tony Blair to find a mayoral candidate London deserved. ...
Evening Standard editor Max Hastings has called on Tony Blair to find a mayoral candidate London deserved.

'Eighteen months ago, with the warm support of the Evening Standard, the government committed itself to creating a mayor for London. Eighteen months from now, we shall vote to decide who should be the first holder of the biggest new job in English politics. And unless John the Baptist or Joan of Arc make a late run from the grave to help a great city out of a very bad spot, London is threatened with government by a mayor incomparably too small for the boots he or she is being invited to fill.

'What has gone wrong? Surely, in the whole of Britain's body politic there is somebody big and able - and honest - enough to give the capital the mayor it deserves. Many Londoners who voted for the idea of a mayor now claim that they wish they hadn't, because the candidates so far on offer look so poor.

'Where is the Labour star to make flesh Tony Blair's bold and imaginative commitment to devolution for the capital? It may be that the prime minister is keeping quiet for tactical reasons about a secret nominee who will amaze and impress us all. But if so, most of his colleagues don't know the good news. They are growing as alarmed by the London vacuum as we are.

'Downing Street seems not to have a clue whom to anoint. Ministers have toyed with TV presenter Trevor Phillips. Glenda Jackson was considered, then rejected - probably rightly - as insufficiently user friendly. Frank Dobson, a serious London politician, doesn't want to know. Any minister not on the way down or out would rather stay in central government than expose him or herself to the slings and arrows of running London Underground, inter alia. Tony Banks, whose name is mentioned, is scarcely considered a serious figure as sports minister, never mind mayor. All the potential Labour candidates are frightened of vying with the one man Tony Blair has set his face against: Ken Livingstone.

'But it is now for the prime minister to show that he can produce a rival with something better to offer, a candidate worthy to run London rather than merely to serve as Downing Street's poodle. Mr Blair's determination to keep his party under iron control, as Lady Thatcher once did hers, deserves respect, and has contributed mightily to making New Labour the success it is today. But in identifying a plausible leader for London, the fact that he or she has the blessing of the prime minister will not alone be enough to win them credibility. Candidates must also look as if they can do the business.

'Because elected mayors are a big novelty for Britain, we should acknowledge that the new system was never likely to be born in a state of perfection. It will have to evolve over a hesitant, difficult generation. We may hope for better prospective mayors for London in the second, or third, or fourth term of the office. But it is also desperately important for the capital that the mayoralty is not discredited by a disastrous initiation.'

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