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Monday, 22 November, 1999, 10:42 GMT
Hague blames Archer's lies
The scandal has rocked William Hague's leadership

William Hague has blamed the "false assurances" he received from Lord Archer after the Conservative leader came under fire for the way he handled the selection of the controversial novelist as the party's London mayor candidate.

I felt I was knocking my head against a brick wall
Sir Timothy Kitson
Lord Archer's unofficial biographer Michael Crick and former MP Sir Timothy Kitson both confirmed they had warned the Conservative leader about the mayoral candidate before his selection and urged an investigation.

Instead, Mr Hague went on to describe Lord Archer as a "candidate of probity and of integrity", at this year's Tory conference.

Speaking on Monday morning, the opposition leader sought to deflect attention from his backing for Lord Archer by blaming the Tory peer for lying.

"We were given false assurances by Jeffrey Archer and as soon as we have had an allegation which has been substantiated and proved to be true we have acted quickly and correctly," he told reporters outside Conservative Central Office.

The millionaire novelist quit the mayoral race on Saturday after admitting he asked a friend to provide him with an alibi for a dinner date he thought would be raised in the sensational 1987 Monica Coghlan libel trial.

Mr Crick said he had offered last year to hand a dossier on Lord Archer to Mr Hague at a private meeting to spare the party future embarrassment. But his offer was snubbed.

And Sir Timothy said he approached previous party chairman Lord Parkinson and his successor, Michael Ancram, but was rebuffed.

Crick: I told Hague about Archer
Sir Timothy had urged the party to refer Lord Archer's possible candidacy for the mayoral race to the Conservatives' ethics and integrity committee, set up to protect the party from the "sleaze" allegations that dogged it in the run up to the next election.

"I think it would have saved a lot of embarrassment and a lot of hassle," he added.

But Tory chairman Michael Ancram insisted the committee could only have investigated specific allegations.

"There were no new allegations. Indeed the one on which Jeffrey Archer decided yesterday to withdraw from mayoral selection had not been made at that time."

Labour pounced on the opportunity to turn attention away from its own bitter internal battle to prevent Ken Livingstone becoming the party's mayoral candidate, and was quick to pile the pressure on Mr Hague.

"William Hague was given plenty of warning that Lord Archer was unfit to be Mayor of London," said Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney.

"He refused to order an investigation into the many complaints made about him. Instead he bottled out and allowed himself to be rolled over by Lord Archer."

Political career finished

Both the Tory chairman and Lord Archer's main spokesman on Monday admitted the novelist's political career is now finished.

Mr Ancram said: "I think that is a realistic assessment, given what has happened, yes."

Former campaign manager Stephan Shakespeare agreed Lord Archer's career would have to move to a new chapter.

"This is a man who has given a great, great deal on all different levels of life.... There's no way that this man's life is ever finished, there's always another chapter.

"He has creativity and vision and energy and he is going to be coming back and using that because that's the whole point of his life, but I think that we are not going to see him in that role [in politics]."

Lord Archer will shortly bring out a new addition to his series of best-selling books, titled To Cut a Long Story Short.

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See also:
21 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Tories seek Archer replacement
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Hague left fuming as Archer falls
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Profile: Jeffrey Archer
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Archer statement in full

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