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Monday, 22 November, 1999, 11:17 GMT
Hague left fuming as Archer falls
Lord Archer: Described as a man of "probity" by William Hague

By political correspondent Nick Assinder

The Conservative Party has been pitched into a fresh "sleaze" crisis after Jeffrey Archer was forced to stand down from the contest to be London mayor amid new revelations about his private life.

William Hague had been given a personal guarantee by Lord Archer that there were no more skeletons in his cupboard
His admission that he persuaded a friend to lie for him at the height of the Monica Coghlan scandal 13 years ago has devastated the Tories and left him a political pariah.

William Hague, who had been given a personal guarantee by Lord Archer that there were no more skeletons in his cupboard, was left fuming that he had been personally humiliated.

He did not want Lord Archer as the Tory candidate in the first place, but was determined to give ordinary party members in London the final say under a one-member-one vote election.

He was dismayed when they backed Lord Archer, whose colourful past has been a constant source of embarrassment to the party, but accepted the decision and threw his weight behind the controversial former deputy chairman of the party.

The Tories are now desperately looking for a way of limiting the damage and finding a replacement mayoral candidate.

One option would be to re-run the entire election, allowing new candidates to come forward. Labour has only just started its lengthy selection procedure, so the Tories would have plenty of time to start again.

Alternatively, party bosses might decide to let former minister Steve Norris take over. He was defeated by Lord Archer in the election and, many believe, was favoured by party bosses. He famously declared he would never campaign on Lord Archer's behalf.

Tories facing nightmare contest

The crisis also raises fresh questions over Mr Archer's future after it was claimed that the revelation may lead to a re-opening of the Monica Coghlan case.

It was the worst possible development for the Tories, who have been revelling in Labour's difficulties over its own selection of a mayoral candidate.

The shambles over whether or not "Red" Ken Livingstone should be allowed to run for the job has deeply damaged Labour and the Tories were relishing months of Labour in-fighting in the run-up to the final selection.

That has now been blown away and the Tories are facing the nightmare of a contest which will see them once again painted as the party of sleaze.

Meanwhile, Lord Archer's reputation has been fatally undermined and his legendary powers of recovery are unlikely to save him this time around. The Tories have cast him into the political wilderness and may even consider exiling him from the party.

The contest to become London's first political mayor has already been dogged by controversy, and the latest twist has ensured it will dominate the political agenda until the poll next May.

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See also:
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Profile: Jeffrey Archer
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Archer statement in full
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
A mayor for the millennium
Links to other UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.