Philip Gould, one of the founding fathers of New Labour and the Prime Minister's favourite pollster, is understood to be leading calls within Downing Street to allow the former leader of the Greater London Council to fight for the Labour nomination for the mayoralty.
Mr Gould, whose dedication to focus groups was ridiculed by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, at the weekend, claims that Mr Livingstone should be beaten in a "straight fight" against other Labour hopefuls in a ballot of London members.
However, senior party officials claimed yesterday that such a strategy was too high-risk and seized on a new Mori poll which showed that Labour could win the mayoralty without the Brent East MP. The poll showed that although Jeffrey Archer came out top, the total support for "non-Ken" Labour candidates was 54 per cent compared with 37 per cent for the Tories.
As an archetypal moderniser, Mr Gould is perhaps the last person that Mr Livingstone would have expected to support his "Let Ken Stand" campaign. But a large number of MPs, including the Parliamentary Labour Party chairman, Clive Soley, believe he should be on the shortlist and allowed to take part in the members' ballot. Party sources admitted yesterday that Mr Gould was backing the "straight fight" option, but claimed he was likely to be outnumbered by those who believed it was too risky a strategy.
With less than eight months to go before the mayoral election on 4 May, the Mori poll offered comfort for both Mr Livingstone's supporters and his detractors. When Mr Livingstone was included in the questionnaire, he was the first choice of 40 per cent of voters, compared with 23 per cent for Lord Archer.
However, when respondents were asked their preference if Mr Livingstone did not stand, Lord Archer received 31 per cent of the vote, ahead of the former transport minister Glenda Jackson on 28 per cent. Tony Banks, the former sports minister, and the broadcaster Trevor Phillips gained 15 per cent and 11 per cent respectively, while the only other Tory, the former transport minister Steven Norris, polled just 6 per cent.