London (CNSNews.com) - London's independent socialist mayor has been accepted back into British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party, more than a year and a half before a ban on his membership was scheduled to run out.
Ken Livingstone was kicked out of the party for running against - and beating - the official Labor candidate in the 2000 mayoral election. But the party's ruling national executive decided to allow him back in after a vote on Tuesday.
Livingstone, whose policies once prompted Blair to predict that he would be a "disaster" for the British capital, said Wednesday that he wouldn't stop airing his often controversial views.
Livingstone also said his renewed membership in the party would bring immediate benefits to the city.
"I'm delighted because the reality is we will get a better hearing for London in the government," Livingstone told the BBC.
"I suspect this will help on a lot of projects where we have been pressing for (national) government funding and backing and I think we will see some results of this within days, not weeks," Livingstone said.
One of Livingstone's most contentious policies was the implementation of a $9 charge for drivers entering central London. The money raised has been plowed into public transport, but businesses say they've suffered as a result.
Livingstone has also fought a losing battle against Blair's government over the partial privatization of London's subway network.
The mayor's staunch anti-war stance has also been the subject of much attention.
During President Bush's recent visit to London, Livingstone appeared at protest events and pushed for the cost of the massive security operation surrounding the visit to be paid for out of national rather than local tax funds.
Earlier, Livingstone found himself in the middle of a political row when he said he was looking forward to Bush being "overthrown."
Labor's favored candidate for next June's mayoral election previously announced that she will step aside. Livingstone still must survive a ballot of London Labor Party members to become the party's official candidate, but observers say the incumbent mayor is favored to win a second term.
Livingstone's opponents, who stand to lose ground if one candidate is able to unite the left-wing and center-left Labor vote, slammed the mayor's re-acceptance into the party as a move of political expediency.
"There is no evidence that either Mr. Livingstone or Labour have changed their ways since they were last a couple, or that Londoners will see any benefits of such an unprincipled new match," said Liberal Democrat candidate Simon Hughes.
"I much look forward to hearing Mr. Livingstone's views on Labor policies such as (increased college) tuition fees and the war in Iraq," Hughes said.
Conservative candidate Steve Norris, who lost to Livingstone the last time around, called the Labor-Livingstone reunion a "sideshow."
"Regardless of the party banner he stands under, he still won't sort out the capital's crime problems," Norris said. "Independent or Labor, Livingstone is not going to make people feel safer on the streets. London deserves better."
See Previous Story:
Anti-Bush London Mayor May Rejoin Blair's Labor Party (Dec. 16, 2003)
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.