... as Archer launches the Lilley roadshow

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The Independent Online
If it's Friday it must be Bristol. It has already been a hard 24 hours, but the crew of the Peter Lilley roadshow say they are full of pep and raring to go. The prize of the Tory leadership glitters in the distance. Several big names, they whisper, are about to declare their allegiance.

The former secretary of state for social security is on a blitzkrieg across Britain addressing Conservative Party members. Travelling on an executive jet he is visiting six cities in four days. The tour started in Leeds on Thursday, took in Bristol and Cardiff yesterday, moves to Birmingham and Edinburgh today, and climaxes in London tomorrow.

This is high-octane presidential style campaigning never before seen on a party leadership contest. But there is a sense of unreality about it all. One half of the "dream ticket", Gillian Shephard, was absent ill, and the people Mr Lilley was assiduously canvassing, the party rank and file, do not actually have a vote.

The mood of those who turned up to listen to Mr Lilley in Leeds, around 100, and 40 in Bristol, was subdued and introspective. Many of them seemed like patients in rehabilitation after trauma.

Mr Lilley is accompanied on his travels by Lord Archer of Weston-super- Mare and a phalanx of strategists. In Leeds, the men who come to listen are in slightly shiny regulation blue blazers and striped ties. The women are in sensible suits and shoes. In Bristol, there are more business suits in evidence, and fewer women. They listen to him politely and clap. There is no thunderous ovation, but there is no heckling either.

After the Leeds meeting Lord Archer declared: "He reminds me of Margaret Thatcher, he has that vision, that drive. He's also a very nice young man, everyone likes him ... When he started off Peter Lilley was fourth or fifth in the race, now I would say he is about second. I see the final showdown to be between him and Ken Clarke."

But sources close to the millionaire novelist say that he is worried that Mr Lilley has difficulty in translating his personal cleverness and charm into public presence. He is perceived as a lightweight, and Lord Archer has been busy coaching him on presentation.

Mr Lilley is at pains to stress his machismo. Wearing a dark blue suit - said to be part of a new "leader style" wardrobe bought for him by his wife Gail - he said in Leeds: "I don't think Tony Blair is much of a street fighter. He does not seem to like the cut and thrust of debate that much. Just look what he has done to Prime Minister's Question Time.

"The fact is that when I was in the Cabinet my job was presentation of government policy, not projecting myself. I was very careful to giving rise to suspicion that I was starting a surreptitious leadership campaign."

Turning to the mechanics of the leadership election itself, Mr Lilley said he believed there might be a case for widening the franchise, but it was not possible to get it in place for this contest.

This does not go down well with some of the members. Danvers Baillieu, chairman of the Bristol University Conservative Association, said: "The fact the members haven't got a vote is appalling. It is so arrogant, it is like the 1832 Reform Act which decided that votes should only be given to those who are somehow wise enough to use them. I think this should have been put in place for this election, not the future."