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When Will They Ever Learn? An Open Letter to Ken Livingstone

Dennis Canavan MSP

DEAR KEN, Congratulations! I know how you feel but, believe me, you have made the right decision. I wish you well and think you will win.

By this time, you will probably have received written confirmation from Party Headquarters that you have been suspended. They might even disconnect your pager! In my case, that was the final act of excommunication from the Party in which I was virtually born and bred. It was a big wrench. I do not regret what I did but I regret very much the circumstances which led to my decision and some of the consequences of that decision. Like you, I thought long and hard about it and I eventually came to the same decision as you. I had no other option but to let the people decide. In my case, the people responded by electing me to the Scottish Parliament with the biggest vote and the biggest majority in Scotland, and I hope that you get a similar response from the people of London.

I honestly thought that, by this time, the Labour leadership would have learned some lessons from the people of Scotland and the people of Wales but there's no sign of it yet. When I recently asked Tony Blair in the House of Commons what lessons he had learned from the people of Falkirk West, he arrogantly replied that they would return a "loyal" Labour MP at the next election. He confuses loyalty with blind obedience.

As you may recall, over 95% of the members of Falkirk West Constituency Labour Party voted for me to be on Labour's list of candidates for the Scottish Parliament but they were over-ruled by a cabal of less than a handful of control freaks at Party Headquarters. In your case, the fix was achieved through the so-called Electoral College. Electoral "cobble-up" would be a more apt description for a device which had already been discredited in Wales, where it arguably deprived Labour of a majority in the National Assembly. It was like something straight out of North Korea, with Trade Union barons and Co-operative leaders refusing to ballot their members but casting block votes for the Blairite candidate.

How can Blair explain to a London pensioner who has been in the Labour Party since before the Prime Minister was born that the vote of an MP is one thousand times more valuable than the vote of an ordinary Party member? Whatever happened to John Smith's commitment to one-member-one-vote? Tony will only use it when it's guaranteed to produce the results he wants. You were stitched up, Ken, and your forthcoming campaign will help expose the iniquities of a scandalous selection system which has brought the Labour Party into disrepute.

You must now brace yourself for the toughest and probably the dirtiest fight of your life. Prominent ministers and other bigwigs will be wheeled out in an effort to discredit you, but that could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. In my case, the many ministerial visits to Falkirk High Street seemed merely to consolidate my support. Donald Dewar publicly denounced me at a Labour Party banquet in Glasgow, in the presence of the Prime Minister. He told the diners, who had paid 200 each for the privilege of listening, that the reason why I was not an acceptable candidate had nothing to do with my political beliefs or my criticisms of the Government. He claimed that I had been rejected because I was simply "not good enough". Donald's petty speech added at least a couple of thousand to my majority and a growing number of Scots now think it's Dewar who is not good enough.

Then there is the great myth about New Labour's election machine. They told us it's the slickest in town, but it's certainly not invincible. The Labour Party spent many thousands of pounds trying to get rid of me, ironically far more than they ever spent to get me elected. I had to spend every penny I had to fight back and would have been on the verge of bankruptcy if my son had not come to the rescue with a substantial loan. But it was money well spent.

In London, the Labour leadership will be prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to try to stop you. Nevertheless, I still think you will win because the people of London can smell the stench of corruption about New Labour's selection system. People do not like candidates being foisted on them by Party leaders. Instead of voting for a puppet, they would prefer a representative who will fight for their interests. That is as true in London as it is in Falkirk.

So go for it, Ken! You will have a mountain to climb but you can make it. Your election as mayor will be a victory for local democracy and a catalyst for democratic change within the Labour Party. Your city, your country and your Party need you.