Labour close to welcoming Livingstone back into fold

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Indy Politics

Ken Livingstone's chances of being readmitted to the Labour Party were given a huge boost last night when the party's official candidate for London mayor hinted she would run as his deputy.

In her strongest statement on the issue, Nicky Gavron revealed that she was prepared to work with Mr Livingstone "to reunite the Labour vote in London".

Furthermore, the London Labour Party's regional board will, on Monday, formally call for the former GLC leader to be readmitted to the party.

Mr Livingstone's future will also be the subject of a discussion at a meeting of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is leading the opposition to the move, but the Mayor of London's supporters believe that he now has enough support on the NEC to win a readmission vote.

Mr Livingstone was expelled from the party for five years because he ran as an independent against the official Labour candidate, Frank Dobson, in the mayoral elections in 2000. Ms Gavron told The Independent yesterday: "During the past few months, I have listened intently to the views and concerns of party members and supporters at every level. My absolute priority is to reunite the Labour vote in London.

"The best way to achieve that unity is to combine the existing strengths of both our campaigns and for Ken Livingstone and myself to work together for the good of Labour and London."

If Mr Livingstone is readmitted, Ms Gavron could campaign, in effect, as his deputy and is likely to be appointed to the post should he win.

Several unions, most Labour MPs and many activists in the capital have pushed for the London Regional Board to make its call on the eve of the NEC meeting.

Len Duvall, the chairman of the London Labour Party, said that many members of the regional board had been arguing that it was in the party's interest both in London and nationally to readmit Mr Livingstone.

Karen Buck, MP for Regent's Park and Kensington North, said the London party wanted to take a "pragmatic decision not to split the Labour-Livingstone vote" while thanking Ms Gavron for her efforts and recognising her continuing role in the campaign for London mayor.

"Barring a miracle, Nicky is not likely to leapfrog into first place. We then face the nightmare scenario of either the Tories or Liberal Democrats winning the mayoral election," she said.

One Labour Party source said yesterday that Mr Prescott's opposition was based on Labour's experience of Mr Livingstone in the 1980s, but it was now time to move on.

The source, who declined to be named, said: "John Prescott should follow the advice that he has given to others. Stop thinking with your heart and think with your head. We don't want voters to get out of the habit of voting Labour ahead of a general election."