Archer faces Tory safety check

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The Independent Online
JEFFREY ARCHER'S campaign to become mayor of London was poised to move forward last night as Tory party chiefs met to give his candidacy a final "safety check". As he faced a half-hour grilling by a Conservative Central Office selection panel, the millionaire novelist was expected to clear the last remaining barrier between him and the party's 40,000 members in the capital.

Along with Steven Norris, Lord Archer is virtually certain of winning approval to go through to the next stage of the Tory nomination process.

Some constituency chairmen believe that Lord Archer's "colourful" record could become a liability during the mayoral campaign proper next May, and the meeting was the final chance the party's senior figures had to register any doubts about him.

In a final pitch for support at the weekend, Lord Archer said his message was: "If you are only going to have a saint for this job, I'm certainly not your man. But if you want somebody with energy and ideas, I'd like to take that challenge."

Mr Norris, the former transport minister, was also confident of the panel's approval after his last-minute decision to marry his mistress, the mother of his 18-month-old son. He said he would put fighting crime at the top of his agenda, following New York's example of zero-tolerance policing.

The third and fourth names on the next shortlist were harder to predict. Among those most likely to make the next round is Mark Kotecha, 35, a self-made millionaire who styles himself as "The Third Man" in the nomination race. Rich from the 10m sale of his Internet company, Mr Kotecha claims that he represents the future of the Tory party.

John Wilkinson, MP for Ruislip Northwood, may also get through as he is well-known within the London party for his arch Eurosceptic views and gentlemanly manner. Other candidates are Bernard Gentry, a former Lambeth councillor and London Underground employee, Andrew Boff, the former leader of Hillingdon Council, Bob Blackman, leader of the Tories on Brent Council, and Patrick Ground, former MP for Feltham.

After last night's vote, three or four hopefuls will go forward to a "hustings meeting" on 14 September where the candidates will address about 3,000 London party members. Members will vote by secret ballot to reduce the list to just two. A ballot of all London members will then be held to declare the winner, with the result announced on 1 October.

Labour's selection process has been severely delayed by the party leadership's unwillingness to let Ken Livingstone stand. Mr Livingstone willlaunch a poster campaign today, backing his right to run for the party's nomination.