Best selling author Jeffrey Archer's chances of becoming the Tory candidate for the mayor of London were enhanced last night by the confirmation by Conservative Party leaders that a ballot of the party will be held before the names go into the hat.
Lord Archer, who claimed an athletics "blue" at university, has been out of the blocks in front of the rest of the field for months. He has even visited New York in his efforts to prepare himself for assuming the role of the first US-style Mayor of London.
But in spite of his enthusiasm for the job, Lord Archer is not being given a clear field. Other runners limbering up for the "primaries" in London could include Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong, Steven Norris, the colourful former transport minister for the capital, and Alan Clark, Chelsea M, diarist, wit, and rank outsider.
The Tory leadership may have their reservations about a Tory beauty parade of such high-profile candidates - they are scarcely shrinking violets, and may relish an unseemly scrap.
There had been clear signals that the Tory hierarchy was reluctant to see Lord Archer become the official candidate because of his high profile and occasionally maverick attitudes. One senior Tory source said some weeks ago: "Jeffrey has peaked too soon."
But the one-member, one-vote contest means grassroots activists can determine the outcome - and they are same activists who so often applaud Lord Archer to the rafters after his bullish speeches to party conference, and buy his books.
Conservative Central Office and the leadership will stand aside, not even insisting upon nominations before would-be mayors throw their hats in the ring.
Anyone who wishes to stand need only be a party member to put his or her name forward. The ballot is likely to be restricted to members in the London area, where Lord Archer has a flat overlooking the Houses of Parliament.
In addition to having his own fortune to back his campaign, Lord Archer has been starring in an advertisement on television for BT, which has led to some grumbles about unfair competition.
Mr Patten was seen as the preferred candidate for the Tory leadership, having gravitas and celebrity quality after leaving Hong Kong. It is not thought his decision to sign the pro-European letter to The Indepedendent has damaged his long-term chances, following the signal yesterday by William Hague that he still wants him in his team and will tell him so next time they meet in a couple of weeks.
Mr Patten, who has recently bought a house in West London, is telling friends that he is interested in the vacancy, if it is a "real job"..
The London referendum, to see whether people want an elected mayor and a separate London authority, takes place on May 7.Reuse content