I will help Livingstone to return, says ally

As victorious independent accepts coveted title, a left-winger boosts his chances of rejoining Labour Party

The chances of Ken Livingstone rejoining Labour were boosted last night when one of his key allies said he would stand for leadership of the party in London.

Geoff Martin, a left-wing trade unionist, said he would run after the disclosure that Jim Fitzpatrick, present chairman of the Greater London Labour Party (GLLP), was standing down. As Frank Dobson's campaign manager in the mayor of London race, Mr Fitzpatrick has decided to step aside in response to Mr Livingstone's victory.

Mr Martin said that if became chairman he would campaign vigorously for the Mayor to be allowed back into the party. The move came as Mr Livingstone says in today's Independent that he would not back down from commenting on the pound or the future of Ford's Dagenham plant.

Mr Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Canning Town, was expected to announce his decision to stand down at a meeting of the London party's board last night.

He has already told colleagues he is ready to "carry the can" for Mr Dobson's third place in the mayoral race and, more widely, for Labour's poor performance in the Greater London Assembly elections.

Last night Mr Martin said he wanted to lead the campaign to bring Mr Livingstone back well before the five-year deadline now in force. As the GLLP chairman is elected by a college of constituency activists and trade unions, Mr Martin believes that as London convener for the Unison union he can secure the post.

He said: "We need someone who can heal the wounds and I believe the overwhelming majority of the party in London want Ken back. Millbank may say over our dead body, but there might be a few dead bodies if that's what it needs."

Mr Fitzpatrick is expected to be given a consolation prize in the form of a junior ministerial post. A Labour source said: "Jim has been loyal and the Prime Minister values loyalty above all things. It is acknowledged that, as Frank's campaign manager, he had a thankless task."

In The Independent today Mr Livingstone says he had had a "fruitful" meeting with Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, on the future of Dagenham.

Mr Livingstone also says he felt it was "absurd" that some party colleagues had suggested he should not be allowed back into Labour. "My views are ... part of the broad church of the Labour Party. The only reason I found myself in the position of having to stand as an independent was because a narrow sectarian group fractured Labour's coalition by preventing its London members from choosing their preferred candidate."

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