The first rule of politics is that if you're in a big hole, stop digging. So what do the Tories do in the wake of the Archer scandal and amid the storm over a pounds 1m "foreign donation" to party funds by Michael Ashcroft? They go out and start up a JCB. And the hole they're in just gets deeper and deeper. The Tories have widened the dirty tricks smear to include the Government. "Labour is prepared to do anything to stay in power" squeaks the Tory vice-chairman. If the Tories cannot justify this accusation they will be guilty of a disgraceful smear. Why on earth would Labour need to lower themselves to discredit the Tories when Hague's rabble make such a good job of it themselves. Tony Blair hit at Hague's woeful judgement in supporting Archer when the world know the millionaire was a rogue and a liar. To that he could easily have added the disastrous ineptitude with which the Tories handled the Ashcroft affair. On this performance the Tories could be finished for years.
If the Conservative leader wants to restore his own reputation he should initiate reform. He must acknowledge that present arrangements are inadequate, abolish the quasi-judicial Ethics and Integrity Committee and introduce a much more credible alternative. The Tories require an internal commission that is clearly capable of removing individuals whose public proclamations, past record or present actions are likely to cost it support at the polls. These, and not the criminal code, are the appropriate yardsticks by which a political party should evaluate those who hold office within it or who wish to represent it at the hustings. Whether it cares for it or not the charge of sleaze has come to hang over the Conservative Party like flies over a rotting corpse. The Ethics and Integrity Committee has done nothing, and can do nothing, to correct this. Mr Hague needs to recognise that simple fact and then take effective and immediate action.
Jeffrey Archer is hoist on a petard some 13 years old, and the poor dear Conservative party disappears, yet again, under a fusillade of mud. Immediately The Times draws all sorts of inferences about the probity of Tory party treasurer, Michael Ashcroft. In the courtroom itself, Mohamed Al Fayed raises the Archer business, reminds the world of Jonathan Aitken's incarceration, and claims that Michael Howard took bribes of pounds 1.5m. When will it all end this dreadful pageant of Tory sleaze? One could be forgiven for wondering if the entire Tory party, all the great names of the last two decades, will face some kind of humiliation by the News of the World. Perhaps they will all be led to the cells, and Central Office will be mortgaged to pay the bills of libel lawyers. Two and a half years after the election, the Tories have never seemed so far from power, and the Tory case to govern has seldom been delivered with so little conviction and so little impact on the electorate. (Boris Johnson)
The Tories now have absolutely no choice but to conduct the war against sleaze as though they mean it. They must begin by expelling Jeffrey Archer, inviting Mr Ashcroft to resign as Conservative party treasurer until his libel case against The Times is settled and ensuring that the Ethics Committee becomes active. But even that will not be enough. William Hague must expunge every last vestige of sleaze from his party. It must become whiter than white. If it doesn't - whatever Labour's shortcomings, which daily become more apparent - the party can expect nothing but a succession of humiliating and deserved defeats.Reuse content