Mayor Archer. The lord's obsession

The peer has already set his sights on the possible top job in London. By Ian Burrell
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The Independent Online
The election of a mayor for London may be nearly three years away but Lord Archer's campaign is already at fever pitch. The millionaire novelist has not yet officially confirmed his candidacy for the post, but has embarked on a frenzy of flesh-pressing and baby-kissing.

He has assembled a campaign advisory team and has a file of 300 potential volunteers ready to help if Londoners vote at a referendum on 7 May in favour of having a mayor.

He is carrying out speaking engagements at the rate of eight a week, has taken part in two televised debates on the issue and is making at least two appearances a week at charity auctions. "It has suddenly stepped up," he agreed. "I am getting 30 to 40 invitations a week at the moment."

This week his lordship will appear as the star of a new television advertising campaign by British Telecom, for which he has donated his fee to charity. Last week the Government published legislation paving the way for a referendum on a mayor for London.

Ken Livingstone, the former GLC leader, concedes that the Tory peer is the clear favourite in the early running. "Londoners can hardly venture onto the streets without being importuned by Lord Archer seeking their support," he commented.

As he looks out over the metropolis from his penthouse by the Thames, the former Tory party deputy chairman would like nothing more than to be mayor of all he surveys. Lord Archer served on the Greater London Council, although he now opposes the idea of a strategic authority for the capital.

"London needs a mayor," he said this weekend. "I think it's the most exciting job available at the moment. I think this is the most exciting city on earth and to be allowed to work for it would be a very great privilege."

He has gathered around him a team of four friends and "loyal Conservatives" who have volunteered to pave the way for his election charge, should it be given the go-ahead by thereferendum.

"The secret is that they are all Londoners and each brings a different authority to the table," he said of his team. And while he waits for five million Londoners to decide whether or not they want a mayor, Lord Archer works unceasingly to ensure he is in their thoughts.

This week his diary includes a charity auction for St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, at the Dorchester Hotel; another auction for the Daily Mail Ski Show at Olympia; and a book signing for London libraries in Covent Garden. In the evenings he will woo the Tories of the City of London, Westminster and Romford with a series of after-dinner speeches.

But he is also trying to widen his constituency. A fortnight ago he attended a meeting of the National Black Caucus in Marylebone. One of those who attended said: "He stayed all day and he agreed with everything that was said."

Lord Archer was pleased with the response. "I have always got on well with black people and immigrants because they love people who come back from trouble. They love people who fight for themselves. I have always had a good working relationship with them.

"I went a bit nervously as you can imagine and was touched by how kind they have been and how many have been in touch since the meeting and said we would like to be involved in your campaign, we hope that you will stand. They have been very, very good."

Lord Archer's supporters will draw confidence from the fact that the vote would take place in the third year of the Labour administration when governments traditionally experience a falling-off in popularity.

"There are a lot of people coming up to me and saying, 'I have voted Labour all my life but I will vote for you for mayor'," he claimed.

Michael Crick, author of the Lord Archer's biography, Stranger than Fiction, said he was "horrified" by the thought of Archer as mayor. He said: "He might be a good commercial writer and be great company and capable of raising loads of money for charity, but when it comes to politics this man has been a complete disaster."