Labour rejects Livingstone's demand over return to party

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Ken Livingstone's hopes of an early return to the Labour Party have been dashed after secret talks with senior party members broke down.

Labour has refused a demand from Mr Livingstone that he should be selected without a contest to run as the Labour candidate in the next election for the Mayor of London. Charles Clarke, the Labour Party chairman, who has been in talks with the Mayor about returning to the party, said he would not accept Mr Livingstone's price for coming back.

Mr Livingstone was thrown out of the party in March 2000 for a minimum of five years when he made clear he would fight the mayoral contest as an independent. He was elected to office two months later with an overwhelming majority, defeating Frank Dobson, the Labour candidate. Now a second contest between Mr Livingstone and Labour is almost inevitable.

Mr Clarke said: "I have talked to Ken. He has told me he might be prepared to come back and join the party if we were to want him to do so. But he would not under any circumstances be prepared to join a Labour Party selection process for the next mayoral contest. So I don't expect him to come back into the Labour Party."

Several senior Labour figures have been lobbying for Mr Livingstone to be readmitted to the party early in the hope that he can help to reinvigorate support for Labour in London. They have asked him to go forward for selection as the official candidate. Mr Livingstone has told friends that he would be prepared to fight the next election under a Labour banner in the right circumstances.

But a deal has been opposed by some in the Labour Party who see his battle with the Government over funding for the Tube and his plans for congestion charging in central London as an obstacle.

Yesterday, however, the Government took an early decision to approve Mr Livingstone's plans for congestion charging in London.

A reply in Parliament said that after taking representations Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport and Local Government, had approved the "general plan" as "consistent with the Mayor's transport strategy" and with the Government's 10-year transport plan.