The hustings for the contest for the Conservative party nomination for Mayor of London opened yesterday with an attack from the present incumbent on the Tory front runner.

Ken Livingstone, who has been in office since 2000, accused Henley MP Boris Johnson of inconsistency on a range of issues, including gay rights.

Four Tories are contesting the primary. All Londoners who are registered to vote can take part either by phone or postal ballot.

Mr Johnson, a former frontbench spokesman and sometime TV presenter, is leading the field.

Three other Conservatives are running for their party’s nomination: Andrew Boff, a publisher from Hackney, and Kensington Chelsea councillors Warwick Lightfoot and Victoria Borwick.

The selection process closes on 26th September and the winner is expected to be announced at the Conservative party conference, which is being held in Blackpool from Sunday 30th September to Wednesday 3rd October.

In a statement, Ken Livingstone, who will be Labour’s candidate, said:

“Boris Johnson used to denounce the Congestion Charge and now says he supports it, he supported the Iraq war then opposed it, he supported the election and re-election of George W Bush, he struck a stance in support of the anti-lesbian and gay Section 28 and now wishes to be seen as supporting London’s diversity.

“London does not need a Mayor in charge of one of the world’s most important cities, and a ten billion pounds budget, who constantly changes their positions because they have been proved to be disastrously wrong. The price will be too high.”

Some of Mr Johnson’s more outspoken views were outlined in a seventeen-page document from left-leaning organisation Compass, entitled Boris Johnson: A Member of the Tory Right.

Compass called the well-known politician “a type of Norman Tebbit in clown’s uniform.”

They also said he is “by far the most right wing candidate ever to be presented by a major party for Mayor of London.”

Mr Johnson later dismissed the Compass report:

“This is a measure of the desperation of Ken and his cronies.

“They have gone through 20 years of articles in the hope of finding any phrase they can distort to the point of giving a completely false impression of what I believe.

“Londoners deserve a positive campaign and positive candidate. This shows exactly why we need a new approach to governing London.”

The Compass document highlighted a series of Mr Johnson’s opinions, expressed in his books and columns in the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator magazine, about gay issues, all of which were made before he became an MP in June 2001.

They quoted from Mr Johnson’s 2001 book, Friends, Voters, Countrymen:

“If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog.”

Yesterday the Liberal Democrats announced a shortlist of three names to go forward to a members’ ballot to decide their candidate for London Mayor.

Liberal Democrat members in London will vote on the candidates next month, with the successful Mayoral candidate being announced in early November.

There are three candidates on the shortlist. Chamali Fernando, barrister from Finchley, is running against Fiyaz Mughal, a Haringey councillor, and Brian Paddick.

Mr Paddick was the UK’s most senior out gay policeman until his retirement as Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in May this year.