Nicky Gavron, Labour's candidate for Mayor of London, gave the first hint yesterday that she was considering making way for Ken Livingstone "in the interests of London and unity of the party".
But Ms Gavron denied reports that she had agreed to step down in favour of Mr Livingstone despite admitting she had discussed the issue with Tony Blair this week.
The former deputy mayor confirmed that she met Ian McCartney, the Labour Party chairman, on Monday to talk about speculation surrounding her future. Several cabinet ministers are opposed to any return for Mr Livingstone and Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, warned Mr Blair yesterday that such a move would be a "dangerous mistake".
Labour sources have suggested recently that Mr Livingstone may receive an early reprieve from the five-year ban imposed when he stood as an independent in the 2000 mayoral election. It is claimed that next month's meeting of Labour's ruling national executive committee will discuss an emergency motion to invite the Mayor back into the party.
Ms Gavron said: "Media reports that I have agreed to step down as Labour's candidate for Mayor of London are not true ... I want to put the record straight."
She said she had been "listening to the debate" and had spoken to key figures and grassroots activists in the party who are in favour of and against Mr Livingstone's early return. "As a part of this, I arranged meetings with Ian McCartney and the Prime Minister," she said. "There is no change in the situation. I am the Labour candidate for the mayoral election."
But in a phrase seized on as evidence of her willingness to step aside, she added: "Whatever happens ... my guiding principle will be to act in the best interests of London and for the unity of the party." A spokesman for the London Labour Party also fuelled speculation by stating that there was no change in Ms Gavron's status "at the moment".
Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, said such a move would leave Mr Blair looking "silly" because the Prime Minister had spent so much time attacking Mr Livingstone. "The last thing we want to see is a cynical fix. I don't think the Labour Party would be doing the right thing if it goes down this ridiculous road," she said.
A Mori poll suggests that Ms Gavron would come fourth behind Mr Livingstone, Steve Norris and Simon Hughes, the Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates.Reuse content