John Prescott will today demand loyalty guarantees from Ken Livingstone before allowing him back into the Labour Party. The Deputy Prime Minister will be a key member of the panel that will interview the Mayor of London before a meeting of the party's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) in London.
Among the promises that will be sought are a pledge not to run as an independent, not to contradict national Labour policy and to make his manifesto for mayor fit that of the London Labour Party.
Mr Livingstone was expelled for five years after he ran against Frank Dobson in the first mayoral election in May 2000. Mr Dobson came third behind the former Greater London Council (GLC) leader and the Tories' Steve Norris.
But opinion polls recently put Labour's official candidate, Nicky Gavron, in a poor fourth place, triggering fears among London Labour MPs that they may lose their seats at the next general election.
After months of speculation, Ms Gavron pulled out of the race before Christmas, citing her desire to run as Mr Livingstone's deputy to unite the party in the capital.
Tony Blair has agreed to put aside his reservations about the former GLC leader and now wants to explore his suitability as Labour candidate in the mayoral election in June. Mr Prescott, Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, have long opposed readmittance for Mr Livingstone.
The Deputy Prime Minister said on Saturday that Mr Livingstone had broken party rules. "If he wants to come back, he will have to sign up to the rules," he said.
The Mayor told party chiefs four years ago that he would not run against Labour if he was allowed to run in the selection process. But when Mr Dobson narrowly beat him for the Labour candidacy, Mr Livingstone ran, declaring that the selection had been rigged against him.
Mr Prescott was furious that he and Ian McCartney, now party chairman, were misled by Mr Livingstone over his intentions in the selection process.
Today's seven-strong interviewing panel will comprise Mr McCartney, the NEC chair Mary Turner, Margaret Wall of the Amicus-MSF union, Mike Griffiths of the GPMU union and the Labour treasurer Jimmy Elsby. Mr Blair and Mr Prescott are allowed to attend the meeting and will have a vote on its recommendations.
This afternoon, the NEC will then meet to consider the panel's proposals. It is unknown if Mr Blair will attend either meeting.
Last month, the NEC voted by 25 votes to two to give Mr Livingstone another chance to prove his loyalty. Mr Norris, who is again the Conservative candidate, said last night that if the Mayor was readmitted to Labour it would be "just a cynical deal and a total stitch-up for Londoners". He added: "But this is a great new year's gift for my campaign, because the polls show that Livingstone will do worse under New Labour than as an independent.
"This begs the question as to what price is he paying and what polices he is jettisoning in exchange for his party membership card."