Monitor: Don't be vague on ethics, Mr Hague - Crisis In The Conservative Party

British comment on the latest crisis in the Tory Party following revelations concerning the party's Treasurer Michael Ashcroft and Jeffrey Archer
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Financial Times

THE BLAME for the weekend fiasco that saw Lord Archer forced to stand down falls on Mr Hague. There were always enough question marks about Lord Archer's past - from allegations of insider trading to curiosities in his CV - to merit rigorous investigation. Mr Hague set up an "ethics committee" for just that purpose [but it was] never asked to probe seriously Lord Archer's suitability for the mayoral candidacy. The question voters will now ask is whether the Conservatives have indeed made a decisive break with an era in which they allowed their party to be tarred with the brush of sleaze.

The Times

IF THE Conservative leader wants to restore his 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 capable of removing individuals whose public proclamations, past record or present actions are likely to cost them 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 fact and take effective and immediate action.

New Statesman

IT'S ALL very well Hague getting "tough" and moralising, but he is a man who happily accepted office from a prime minister who refused to take responsibility for Britain's economic humiliation on Black Wednesday. Was losing pounds 30bn of the country's money in an afternoon and not having the decency to resign afterwards a lesser offence than asking someone to provide an alibi for a dinner date?

If Hague thought Major was morally acceptable, no wonder he had no qualms about Archer. The case demonstrates the terrible state in which the Conservative Party finds itself. But it is also a comment on the general state of public life. It is all because politics has come to be about being flash, rather than having ideological convictions.

The very existence of spin doctors and PR consultancies is an open encouragement to politicians to see how far they can go. Hague is just as culpable as the Prime Minister, though a lot less good at getting away with it. What he and his benighted party need now is a long, corrective period of being bloody boring. (Simon Heffer)

The Guardian

WILLIAM HAGUE must be praying for the weekend to come, ending a week that has held nothing but disaster. First the shamed exit of the party's standard-bearer in London, Jeffrey Archer, then the resurgence yesterday of questions about the enigmatic man from Belize, the Tory treasurer, Michael Ashcroft. Now, to cap it all, comes the night Mr Hague must have dreaded: the near-certain return to the House of Commons of Michael Portillo as the new member for Kensington and Chelsea. Mr Hague should start listening to those younger Tories who are urging a clear-out of the old guard at the heart of so much of the current trouble. They can see that the Archers, Ashcrofts and even Portillos turn off voters by reminding them of the Tory past. Mr Hague needs to sort out Conservative finances - but the politics need even more drastic attention.

Daily Mail

THE TORIES now have 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 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 - the party can expect nothing but a succession of humiliating and deserved defeats.

The Sun

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 Jeffrey 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 just gets deeper and deeper. First they are daft enough to imply that The Times hacked into private bank accounts for its latest revelations about Tory treasurer Ashcroft and his money. Whether his donation is "foreign" is disputable - but the idea that The Times would stoop so low as to hack into a bank account is patently ridiculous. In the Commons Tony Blair hit at Hague's woeful judgement in supporting Archer when the world knew the millionaire was a rogue and a liar. To that he could have added the disastrous ineptitude with which the Tories handled the Ashcroft affair. On this performance the Tories could be finished for years.

The Birmingham Post

WILLIAM HAGUE may have allowed Jeffrey Archer to become candidate for Mayor of London but our Glorious Leader was persuaded that Ron Davies - he of the nocturnal ramblings through dubious parks - would make a great Cabinet Minister and a marvellous First Minister for Wales, look you. So is there a conspiracy against the Conservatives? Well, Labour's massed ranks of spin doctors and suborned civil servants never miss a chance to dish the dirt. And the natural policy of nationalised industries like the BBC - run, naturally, by another generous donor to Labour Party funds - is to campaign to keep Mr Blur in power for the whole of the Next Millennium. And, of course, Rupert Murdoch always wants to be chums with politicians in power (didn't Mr Blur personally try persuading the Italians to let Rupert buy one of their TV channels?) so his journals also are at our Glorious Leader's disposal. It's not exactly a conspiracy to keep Labour in office, more a merging of self-interested parties. The object's the same, though. To brand the Tory kettle black while claiming the Labour pot is whiter than white.

The Mirror

THE TORIES bleated that it wasn't their fault - Archer didn't tell them he was a crook. What a joke. If the police conducted investigations like that, there wouldn't be a single criminal in jail. There's enough dirt on Archer to fill 100 cesspits. Nobody with half a brain would believe a word he said, let alone want him as a mayor. Yet Mr Hague and his party chairman, Michael Ancram, accepted everything he said. They demonstrated such chronic weakness that they are clearly not fit to play a leading role in public life. Mr Hague should stick to what he does best - cracking silly jokes. And leave political leadership to people who have a backbone and integrity.

Evening Standard

FLATTERY. OLD-FASHIONED flattery. And generosity, ubiquity, availability, hospitality. Timeo Jeffrey et dona ferentum will no doubt be engraved upon the desks of future Conservative leaders. Too late. People like Archer will always be able to worm their way into political camps, because British political leaders are chronically short of cash to pay people to do party jobs for them. That is why again and again they enlist the services of available scoundrels.

The Spectator

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)

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