Sleaze returns to haunt Howard as Archer waits in the wings

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The Independent Online
The spectre of Tory sleaze loomed up from the past to haunt Michael Howard this weekend as Lord Archer became eligible to rejoin his former party. A five-year suspension against the disgraced peer elapsed yesterday, handing Mr Howard the headache of how to prevent an unwelcome return.

Further embarrassment awaits the Tory leader on Tuesday when more allegations are set to emerge that one of his MPs offered tours of Parliament to paying tourists. Jonathan Sayeed was banned from the House of Commons for a fortnight and suspended from his party for a month over links to a firm that offered privileged access to Parliament.

Mr Howard has ordered "soundings" to be taken among Lord Archer's friends about whether he intends to rejoin. Officially, aides will say only that any application would be judged "on its merits". Privately they admit that the return of Lord Archer would be a "gift" to Labour, as it seeks to identify the Tories with the past.

Mr Howard is hoping to persuade the peer to spare the Conservatives further embarrassment. But Lord Archer still has powerful friends in the party. Peter Bottomley, Tory MP for Worthing West, said he looked forward to Lord Archer joining the Conservatives' election campaign. "He has been a central part of the life and soul of the party and done much to bring about its greatest successes. I am sure he will be asked to help out up and down the country."

William Hague expelled Lord Archer from the Tory party after lies he told to cover his tracks during a sex scandal were exposed. One senior Labour strategist gleefully suggested a Conservative application form would be publicly hand-delivered to the peer.

Mr Sayeed, meanwhile, is fighting for his political life after the Commons standards watchdog found he had "risked the reputation" of Parliament by his involvement in English Manners Ltd.

The MP risks increasing his punishment when he seeks to challenge the verdict in a Commons debate on Tuesday. A member of the Standards and Privileges Committee advised Mr Sayeed to re-think his decision. "He may well find that more comes to light."

Meanwhile, a whistle-blower who helped Westminster council taxpayers recover pounds 13.2m from the disgraced Tesco heiress Lady Shirley Porter could be drummed out of public office this week, for leaking documents.

Paul Dimoldenberg, a Labour councillor in Westminster for more than 20 years, is being hauled before the local government Standards Board on Tuesday, accused of breaching confidentiality and bringing Westminster council into disrepute. The board has the power to disqualify him as a councillor.

Mr Dimoldenberg has not denied passing council documents to BBC Radio 4's Today programme in 2003, but he claims that he did it in the interests of Westminster's council taxpayers.