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Last Updated: Friday, 6 February, 2004, 13:00 GMT
Aitken bids for Commons return
Jonathan Aitken
Local Tories have petitioned over Aitken's possible return
He rose to be a cabinet minister, fell to disgrace and prison and now Jonathan Aitken wants to return to Parliament in another twist of a remarkable career.

Mr Aitken says he was moved and amazed when some Tories in his old South Thanet seat said he should join the race to be their candidate.

Jailed for 18 months in 1999, he says their call has persuaded him to run.

But he accuses "bureaucrats" within the Conservative party of blocking him with underhand tactics.

Perjury

In the Spectator magazine, Mr Aitken said that he hopes South Thanet's voters "will be trusted to be my next judge and jury".

But speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Aitken claimed that "shabby tricks" from within the Conservative party were stopping his chances of standing as a candidate.

I am realistic enough to know that my application could be vetoed on grounds of morals or political embarrassment
Jonathan Aitken

"If the leadership of the Conservative Party wants to come out up front and say we don't want your candidature, for all kinds of reasons - moral, political embarrassment and so on - I might be disappointed but I am a realist and I would have to accept that with good grace.

"What I don't accept is the kind of misinformation that is being pumped out, quite wrongly, along the lines of 'he didn't get his application in on time'."

Whether Mr Aitken is to become a candidate should be up to "local democrats on the ground", he said, and not "bureaucrats at Central Office - who are calling all kinds of blocking shots at the moment".

Among the other hurdles to be faced in his quest to revive his stricken political career is the law which bars anybody jailed for more than a year from being an MP.

'Forgiving town'

Mr Aitken's conviction for perjury and perverting the course of justice means he falls foul of that rule.

But in his magazine article, he says 200 of the 355 members of the South Thanet Conservative Association have signed the petition sent to the Tory candidates' department.

Mr Aitken says he did not originate the campaign, which apparently began after he acted as auctioneer at a fundraising event in the constituency before Christmas.

When the idea was put to him, he could only think of the obvious objections but people said they felt he had paid his "debt to society".

Mr Aitken says Ramsgate, the town at the heart of the constituency, is "a forgiving community".

Embarrassment

He suggests there are probably more ex-offenders than paid-up Tory members in the area.

He says he is among 100 would-be MPs who have applied to be the Tory prospective candidate for the seat.

Rehabilitation laws mean low-sentence offenders should not be barred from jobs five to 10 years after their convictions.

Mr Aitken says: "My offence of perjury took place seven years ago. I am coming close to formal rehabilitation, which happens to me informally, in many circumstances, all the time.

"So perhaps the judgement of the Thanet petitioners that political rehabilitation can work is not so unreasonable."

Local Tory parties can only adopt somebody as a candidate if they are on Conservative Central Office's approved list.

Labour MP Stephen Ladyman, who ousted Mr Aitken in South Thanet in 1997, said Tory leader Michael Howard had been recycled so why not Mr Aitken or Jeffrey Archer?

Dr Ladyman told BBC News Online there should be rehabilitation, but MPs also had to justify themselves.

"My advice to Jonathan would be to get on with demonstrating to the world that he's a changed man and then the rehabilitation will happen naturally," he added.




SEE ALSO:
Harris 'approved of Aitken romance'
29 Dec 02  |  Entertainment
Aitken: Pride was my downfall
17 Jul 02  |  Politics



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