George Galloway could be allowed to re-join Labour - and even stand as an MP at the next election, senior sources close to Jeremy Corbyn have revealed.
The former Respect leader currently faces a five-year ban on any return to his former party after standing against Labour in the 2015 election.
But Galloway, who was first expelled for bringing the party into disrepute in 2003, could be thrown a lifeline if enough local members back him to return and the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) approves the idea.
Galloway was an MP for Labour for 18 years until he fell out with the party over disputed allegations that he had called on Arab armies to fight British troops.
A staunch opponent of the Iraq War, he is a long-time ally of Corbyn and has praised the way Labour has changed under his leadership.
When asked if Corbyn supported calls to re-admit Galloway, a senior Labour spokesman said on Wednesday: “It’s not an issue for Jeremy. It’s an issue for the NEC.”
But the spokesman added: “The rules within the Labour party are clear that anyone who stands against Labour in elections is ineligible for Labour party membership for a period of five years.
“The only circumstance in which that can be changed is if the local CLP [constituency Labour Party] requests it and the decision is then with the National Executive Committee.”
The spokesman added that there had been precedents for letting banned members back in the party earlier than five years.
Given that local Labour parties have seen a huge influx of Corbyn supporters in the past two years, the prospect of a CLP deciding to call for Galloway’s readmission is no longer unlikely.
The five-year ban ends in 2022, at the next scheduled general election, after Galloway stood in Manchester Gorton against Labour’s Afzal Khan.
In theory, he could be admitted even earlier, and a CLP which wanted him could also pick him as their Parliamentary candidate.
However, Galloway’s remarks about women and rape are more likely to block any return.
He sparked outrage when he declared that Julian Assange had been guilty of nothing more than “bad sexual etiquette” despite being wanted in Sweden on two sexual assault charges.
The women’s Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is set to discuss at its next meeting calls for him to stay banned from membership.
The issue was reignited this week when Andrew Murray, a senior Unite official who helped run Labour’s recent election campaign, urged Labour to think again.
The Morning Star reported that Murray, a co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition, had said it was “long past time” for the “vicious, illegal and disgraceful decision to expel George Galloway from the Labour Party” to be overturned.
Galloway always disputed his explusion in 2003, which centred on claims that he had called on British soldiers not to obey orders in the illegal invasion of Iraq and for Tony Blair and US president George W Bush had assaulted the country “like wolves.”
After his expulsion, Galloway helped found the anti-war Respect party, for which he won the Bethnal Green and Bow Westminster seat. He later won a by-election in Bradford West, before being ousted by Labour’s Naz Shah in 2015.
Since Corbyn won the Labour leadership in 2016, Galloway has expressed a desire to return to the party. A change.org petition calling for his reinstatement has received over 5,000 signatures.