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MEDIA WATCH - A MONTH OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT COVERAGE

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The Financial Times reports that balloons bearing the words 'lies, libel, filth and falsification' were released op...
The Financial Times reports that balloons bearing the words 'lies, libel, filth and falsification' were released opposite parliament as spin doctors vowed to do away with dirty tricks ahead of next month's elections.

The city in question was Moscow, but judging from the London mayor debacle, the scene could have been our fair capital.

Last weekend's papers were speculating that Livingstone would announce his candidacy during BBC's Question Time on Thursday. The next day, Ken claimed on Panorama that Millbank phoned him with the final detailed result only half an hour after voting finished and days before the 'live' announcement.

Well, unless Ken is a good actor, he looked genuinely upset as he was interviewed outside his Cricklewood home live on Sky TV. However, his discomfort was nothing compared to Frank Dobson's at the later press conference. He dodged a hail of journalistic questions on the electoral college stitch up and began to roll out what has become his key campaign tactic - the 'not me Guv' method of distancing himself from Millbank.

This was refined later at a Guardian-sponsored mayoral debate, where he denounced those at Labour HQ as 'prats' and had to endure Livingstone watching him from the audience 'like a modern-day Banquo's ghost'.

There is now a fearsome head of steam built up behind the 'Ken must stand' angle, with many national papers and pundits urging him on. First among these is London's Evening Standard which screamed 'Go for it Ken' the day after the ballot result. Its motives are obvious - never a Livingstone supporter, the paper wants to indulge in some mischief making at Blair's expense.

It all makes good copy, but let's be serious. Unless the elected mayor idea ignites a genuinely new and independent spirit in local government, it's dead.

Earlier in the month, the FT reported that Don Foster MP has ambitions to resign and stand as mayor of Bath. The paper also speculated that Jeff Rooker has designs on Birmingham and that Peter Kilfoyle is set to stand in Liverpool. Would you get out of bed on a wet Thursday to vote for such deeply boring candidates?

Labour councillors from Birmingham, Liverpool and some of the more Blairite councils wrote to the Guardian pledging support for elected mayors despite recent events arguing that 'the London mayoral race should be the catalyst for others to follow'.

Surely this can only be the case if Livingstone stands. He is popular, with the media and the public, precisely because he is not a product of a party machine. Without him, it's just another local government election.

The Observer reports that government staff on a voter registration drive have had scores of young voters telling them they only want to vote for Livingstone. Poor Dobbo was mostly identified as 'that bloke with the beard'. Of those likely to vote, 78% said they backed Ken.

As columnist Simon Jenkins pointed out in the Standard, without Livingstone the race is between 'an ageing carthorse, Mr Dobson, and an ageing stallion, Steve Norris'.

Given the choice between those two or someone who now claims the support of Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers, it's no contest.

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