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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 19:28 GMT 20:28 UK
Livingstone: I'll be back in Labour this year
By BBC News Online's Nyta Mann
Ken Livingstone, expelled from Labour for running against its candidate for London mayor, will apply to re-join the party after next week's election.
Speaking to BBC News Online Mr Livingstone, who opinion polls suggest is the runaway frontrunner for mayor, revealed that he expects to be welcomed back into the Labour fold before the end of this year.
"It would be good at conference if I'm back in the fold and the whole party is reunited in the run-up to the general election."
Labour's annual conference is held in September. The party expelled Mr Livingstone from its ranks at the beginning of April when he formally entered the race for London mayor as an independent - against the official Labour candidate Frank Dobson.
Party chiefs made clear at the time that Mr Livingstone's expulsion would stand for at least five years.
But asked now if he believed he had a realistic hope of re-joining Labour's ranks this year, the former Greater London Council leader declared: "Yes. Certainly I'll be applying. I mean, they wouldn't want to blackball me, now, would they?"
When he was expelled Mr Livingstone described the move as a "trial separation", insisting at the time: "I expect I will be back soon."
But a Labour spokesman later rejected the suggestion Mr Livingstone would be allowed back into the party so soon.
"Ken Livingstone knew the rules when he chose to leave the Labour Party," said the spokesman.
"By standing in an election against an official Labour candidate any member excludes themselves for a minimum period of five years. Ken Livingstone's situation is exactly the same as any other individual."
Polls appear to indicate that the Brent East MP is on course to win 4 May's mayoral election. According to an ICM survey for Thursday's London Evening Standard newspaper, he has increased his already commanding lead over other candidates.
The poll put his support at 51%, with his nearest rival - Conservative Steve Norris - on 17%. Frank Dobson was placed third on 14%.
'I'm not in hiding'
The previously easy-to-contact MP has changed his phone numbers and has not held a news conference for several weeks.
"No I've not gone into hiding," he told BBC News Online, and insisted: "I stand by everything I said."
"I've changed my phone numbers because if I am about to become mayor of London I can't have 24-hour access for the media - there's got to be someone organising it."
"I just got to the point where there were about 40 phone messages a day from the media," he said. "If you're elected mayor it's a big job to actually do and the media will have to come second."
"I've spent 13 years as a backbencher in Parliament - you are accessible, the press can get to you all the time. If you've actually got a proper day's work to do it isn't going to be possible. I'm afraid you're going to have to see a lot less of me."
In what may come as a relief to Prime Minister Tony Blair, when asked whether - if he is elected mayor - journalists should expect to see no more of the old media-accessible, reporter-friendly "cuddly Ken", Mr Livingstone confirmed: "No, a lot less of that - there has to be.
"The job has to come first. It's no good having a media strategy if you screw up the job and don't get that right - no one will vote for you, however many times you're on telly."
"So I think after the election it will be a lot more difficult to see me and I'll have a much lower profile. But I'll be doing a job of work."