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Monday, 22 November, 1999, 12:07 GMT
Hague faces toughest test
William Hague accused of lack of judgement

By political correspondent Nick Assinder

The Archer affair has landed William Hague with probably his greatest leadership test since he was elected to the job.

He is facing mounting charges that, by allowing Lord Archer to become the party's mayoral candidate, he displayed a dangerous lack of judgement.

Author Michael Crick and former MP Sir Timothy Kitson both claim they warned Mr Hague about the peer's background but were ignored.

There was no shortage of allegations surrounding the novelist's background but, after he won the selection battle, Mr Hague accepted him as a candidate of "probity and integrity."

His fall, after revelations he persuaded a friend to lie for him over the Monica Coghlan affair has ended his political career - and may yet severely damage Mr Hague.

The Tory leader's supporters insist he did everything possible to vet the candidates and, in the end, it was a matter for ordinary party members to make the final choice.

False assurances

Without concrete evidence, there were no grounds to re-visit the Coghlan affair which had already been dealt with by the courts, they insist.

Lord Archer: more revelations promised
And Mr Hague has claimed he was "false assurances" by Lord Archer that there was nothing in his background that could emerge to embarrass the party during the campaign.

But, with more revelations promised and the possibility of legal action against Lord Archer, the issue is going to stalk Mr Hague for some time to come.

It is no secret that Lord Archer was not the leadership's own choice but, once he was elected, they had to stand beside him.

But his resignation has now pitched the entire selection into chaos and will ensure whoever puts their name forward for the re-run will be intensely vetted.

The original runner up, former minister Steve Norris, may well throw his hat back in to the ring.

But he has a colourful personal background, with widely publicised stories about his string of mistresses.

Tory sleaze

Meanwhile the huge political advantage the Tories had over Labour's farcical selection procedure has been wiped away.

When they should have been concentrating their fire on Labour's campaign to stop Ken Livingstone winning the party's nomination they will instead be locked in their own internal selection process.

And the last thing Mr Hague wanted was for the old Tory sleaze to come back to haunt him at such a crucial time.

There is already the libel case running between "cash for question" ex-MP Neil Hamilton and Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed to remind voters of the sleaze allegations.

And former minister Jonathan Aitken is still in prison for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Labour, meanwhile, will seize the advantage to turn attention away from their own internal problems and to put the Tories on the rack.

And they will concentrate their fire on Mr Hague, claiming he displayed lack of judgement and leadership over the selection of the Tory candidate.

The entire race to become London's first political mayor has now turned into a mixture of farce and high drama and it is certain to prove a bitter and personalised battle in the run up to the poll next May.

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See also:
22 Nov 99 |  UK
Hague suffers Archer fallout
21 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Tories seek Archer replacement
21 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Hague blames Archer's lies
21 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Tories to re-run mayor contest
22 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Repay money, newspaper tells Archer

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