Archer gets clear run for mayor's job

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THE VIGOROUS campaign by Jeffrey Archer to become mayor of London received a big boost when senior Tories said they would not block his candidacy. Michael Ancram, Conservative Party chairman, said allegations about the millionaire novelist's record would not be investigated, and he was "free to stand".

As he unveiled details of the party's procedure for selecting its mayoral candidate yesterday, Mr Ancram said it had been decided the claims would not go before a new ethics committee.

Sir Timothy Kitson, a former Tory MP, submitted a formal complaint about Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare last year, claiming his record showed he was unfit to become London's first citizen. Sir Timothy called for the committee set up by William Hague to combat Tory sleaze to conduct a full inquiry into newspaper reports about the Tory peer's handling of Anglia TV shares and other allegations. But Mr Ancram revealed that the party's ruling board had decided the complaint failed to make the prima facie case necessary for it to go before the ethics body.

Elections for Britain's first directly elected mayor will be in May 2000, when 5 million Londoners will be eligible to vote.

Lord Archer has assiduously cultivated the Tory party in London over the past year and is seen as the front-runner ahead of the former minister Steven Norris. Under the new Tory selection system all hopefuls will face an interview by London party chairmen before going forward to a hustings meeting that will whittle down the shortlist to two potential candidates. Each of the party's 70,000 members will then be allowed to take part in a one- member, one-vote postal ballot, which is likely to be held at the end of this year. Limits on campaign spending will be introduced to ensure no one candidate can outspend his rival, though the level will be set "sufficiently high" to allow high-profile publicity. Mr Ancram declared that, unlike Labour's attempts to veto the candidacy of Ken Livingstone, the Tories had devised a system fair to all eligible members of the party.

"We want a substantial and heavyweight candidate and believe an open and democratic process is the best way to produce that," he said.

"There is no vetting involved in the process."

The ethics committee, chaired by Elizabeth Appleby QC, has to date not investigated a single complaint and Sir Timothy said yesterday it was "a bit of a charade" if his claims were not being pursued.

Lord Archer told The Independent he welcomed the party's decision to make its selection process as open and democratic as possible. "If only the Labour Party were prepared to be as bold as the Conservatives in this, then we could be assured of a very exciting race for the first mayor of London," he said.

The new selection process is to begin in July.