By Richards, Steve
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 129, No. 4428
Even before a single member of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly has been elected, the political consequences of devolution are making waves. What happens in one part of the United Kingdom impacts on another, as the new Labour machine is discovering to its horror.
In my view, the leadership was justified in its efforts to ensure that Alun Michael beat Rhodri Morgan in the Welsh internal contest. It is perverse to argue that the national Labour leadership should have no say in who represents the party in different parts of the country. But several senior members of Alun Michael's campaign team tell me that the manner of his victory has caused immense long-term damage to Labour's reputation in Wales. Indeed, one of Michael's most important strategists has concluded that the string-pulling should not be repeated in any equivalent contest. He is advising Blairites in London that Ken Livingstone should be allowed to put his name forward as a possible Labour candidate for the London mayor.
So events in Wales are influencing the combustible politics of London. They explain why the name of Mo Mowlam recurs in relation to the mayor. The Mowlam candidacy is based on crude thinking: if, after Wales, we have to keep our hands clean and let Livingstone stand, we will throw at him our most powerful, glittering electoral weapon. But the "Mowlam for mayor" reports reflect merely the fleeting thoughts of increasingly desperate ministers as they muse over the problem with journalists.
While Tony Blair can be ruthless, he is not going to be that ruthless. Mowlam has done many years' hard service on the Northern Ireland brief; she can't exactly name her next job but she certainly won't have one imposed on her. Why should she take the political risk of resigning her Commons seat? What is more, Blair wants to make full use of his political asset on the national scene as well as the capital's. No, Mo Mowlam is not going to stand.
Senior Downing Street insiders still hope that Frank Dobson is persuadable, but the longer he makes it clear that he is not interested the more his vote-winning potential in London declines. A reluctant candidate imposed by the centre is not going to get off to a booming start. Dobson is reluctant for the right reasons. He feels passionate about his Health brief; so passionate, indeed, that the last time I interviewed him for the BBC I am sure he would have hit me had he not been a couple of miles away in the radio car.
The broadcaster Trevor Phillips is looked on favourably by the leadership, and that presumably explains why he has just announced that he is throwing his hat in the ring. If it looks as if his candidacy is gaining momentum, it is just possible that he will be pitted against Livingstone in a contest.
I would still put my money on the Livingstone candidacy being blocked at the first hurdle, probably in July as everyone heads off for their summer holidays. …