Livingstone back in party 'by Christmas'

Ken Livingstone is to be let back into the Labour Party as part of a deal with Tony Blair to stop the Mayor of London attacking the Government in the run-up to the general election.

John Prescott signalled that he could be readmitted for good behaviour, but he warned Mr Livingstone that, if he applied to rejoin the party today, he would be rejected.

The Deputy Prime Minister would oppose the five-year ban on Mr Livingstone being lifted before this year's annual party conference, but Mr Livingstone said he and Mr Blair privately agreed to review his membership after the summer.

Mr Livingstone made plain yesterday that he wants to re-enter the Labour Party by the end of the year and will seek a second term as Mayor. "I hope it won't take five years because I'll be up for re-election as an independent in four years if I'm not allowed back in the Labour Party - I'd much rather be the Labour candidate," he said on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost.

Mr Prescott signalled that the party's rules could be changed to allow Mr Livingstone to return to the party, but he may favour the "carrot" of re-entry being held back until after the next general election.

The rules required a five-year ban "at the present time", said Mr Prescott, but he added: "The executive always have extra powers in these matters."

Party sources confirmed the clear hint that Mr Livingstone could be readmitted earlier was intended to apply leverage on the Mayor to temper his criticism of the Government.

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