Tony Blair has finally thrown his full weight behind Frank Dobson's attempt to become mayor of London, and strongly attacked Ken Livingstone.
After weeks of hesitation which infuriated Mr Dobson, Mr Blair agreed to appear with him at a photo-opportunity next week and at a press conference or rally. In an interview in Marie Claire magazine published tomorrow, Mr Blair says: "I'm supporting Frank because he is a very solid citizen, with the best policies and a proven track record of fighting and delivering for London. And that's what counts in this election. He is also a team player."
The Prime Minister says he is glad Mr Livingstone, running as an independent, was not Labour's candidate. He accuses him of hypocrisy over criticising the electoral college used to select Labour's candidate: "It was he and his supporters on the hard left who campaigned hard for the use of electoral colleges in these contests in the first place."
Mr Blair's intervention came as his aides made clear he would oppose Mr Livingstone's early return to the Labour Party. Although he has been expelled for at least five years, Blair allies described as "pure fantasy" Mr Livingstone's claim it was a "trial separation".
Downing Street said Mr Blair and Mr Dobson had a "friendly and positive" meeting at the Commons on Tuesday.
Mr Blair's backing came as a relief for the ill-fated Dobson campaign and Labour's Millbank headquarters, which had told Downing Street that failure to find time for a joint appearance with Mr Dobson fuelled media reports that Labour leaders had written off his chances of overtaking Mr Livingstone, the front-runner .
Last night Mr Livingstone told the Commons Transport sub-committee he had no ideological objection to a public-private partnership to improve the Underground. But if the Government honoured a commitment to publish fair comparisons between the scheme and other alternatives, it would be shown to be more costly than his plan to raise bonds to pay for the work, he said.