THE ARCHER AFFAIR: Once, the great and good lined up to back Archer. Where are they now?

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The Independent Online
HE WAS once a star turn for the Conservatives. Prime Ministers, Cabinet members and the grandees enjoyed his hospitality and returned the warmest of compliments. Now Jeffrey Archer is shunned, isolated, a subject of savage attacks. Hell hath no fury like the Tories scorned.

In 48 hours, the man who was running for Mayor of London with the full endorsement of William Hague and his two predecessors, John Major and Baroness Thatcher has been told by the party hierarchy that his political life is over and he will get no support as he faces the real prospect of prison gates clanking shut behind him.

The great and the good of Britain, politicians, show business personalities, and media commentators - discerning people all - had been steadfast and vocal cheerleaders for Jeffrey Archer, despite the allegations of lying, dishonesty and shady practices.

Even during the repercussions of each of his many slips, this access to the magic circle has always been available. Now, as the charmed public life of Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare appears over, it is worth noting the paeons of praise which prove some of the people can be fooled all of the time.

Let us start with the man who declares he will see off Tony Blair and lead the Tories back to power with his "common sense revolution". But many observers would say, common sense is precisely what has been missing from William Hague's actions.

At this year's Tory conference, Mr Hague declared about Lord Archer: "This candidate is a candidate of probity and integrity - I am going to back him to the hilt." On 3 October, he was saying: "Jeffrey Archer has been through weeks, months of an election in which anything that could be said about him, and all the attacks that could have been made on him, have been made on him."

Asked whether he believed Lord Archer was a man of integrity, Mr Hague said with fervour: " Yes I do, yes I do."

By last night this had turned to: "This is the end of politics for Jeffrey Archer. He has let the Conservative Party down badly. He misled the party chairman, we were given false assurances by Jeffrey Archer."

Mr Hague, who used Lord Archer's gym and was a frequent guest at his champagne and shepherd's pie parties, was not the only Tory leader to have been seduced by the millionaire novelist and politician.

Baroness Thatcher and her husband Denis had been old friends. She gave a ringing endorsement of him as Mayoral candidate just before London Tories cast their votes. "Tireless energy and unquenchable enthusiasm are Jeffrey Archer's hallmarks. These are precisely the qualities the Conservative candidate for the Mayor of London requires. Jeffrey has my wholehearted support." Last night Baroness Thatcher's office said: "Baroness Thatcher is not making any comment on this, absolutely no comment."

One of Lord Archer's character referees for the Mayoral nomination was Lady Thatcher's successor at No 10, John Major. He, too, had been assiduously cultivated. When Mr Major entered the party leadership contest in 1995, Lord Archer's chauffeur delivered the nomination papers.

When Prime Minister, Mr Major made Archer a peer and staunchly defended him over allegations of insider dealing on Anglia TV shares. "I am happy to confirm that Lord Archer is my friend, has been my friend, and will remain my friend in the future," said Mr Major.

He even offered to get his famous soapbox out for Lord Archer's mayoral campaign and said "he works incessantly for the party and understands it from the grass roots up". There were equally warm words from the former Premier's fellow referee, former Education Secretary Gillian Shepherd who described him as "an excellent candidate". From Mr Major yesterday, there was only silence.

During Lord Archer's frequent " little local difficulties" he has always been able to call on senior Tory colleagues for aid. After his libel case against the Daily Star in 1987, the case which has eventually led to his downfall, Lord Tebbit declared: "I just knew what Jeffrey said was correct. He gave the party dash and style."

When Lord Archer had to resign as deputy chairman over the allegations of sex with prostitute Monica Coghlan the previous year, Lord Tebbit said he was saddened by the loss of his "energy and enthusiasm". Lord Havers, the former Lord Chancellor, praised "the marvellous way he picked himself up from bankruptcy". Lord Hurd, Foreign Secretary in 1994, spoke of Lord Archer's "huge energy".

Michael Portillo, then Chief Secretary of the Treasury, also helped Lord Archer during the Anglia TV debacle (he bought shares in the company when his wife was a director and just ahead of a takeover bid).

Mr Portillo said: "It is most unlikely that he had been involved in any wrongdoing. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to know of his innocence as soon as possible."

Last week Lord Archer was at Kensington and Chelsea to help Mr Portillo's campaign, and the man seen as William Hague's future replacement as party leader said: "I will give him all the support (for the Mayoral elections) as he gives me. We are going to work closely together. We are a team."

Former ministers Michael Howard, Peter Lilley, Sir Norman Fowler and Anne Widdecombe also planned to campaign for Lord Archer, although Ms Widdecombe said there were "certain activities" in the past she did not condone.

Many politicians, including Lord Parkinson, Virginia Bottomley, John Gummer and Stephen Dorrel regularly attended his parties at what he calls his penthouse overlooking the Thames - in fact, a 10th-floor flat in a 14-floor block.

Lord Archer's networking extends far beyond politicians. His third referee is the former British heavyweight boxing champion and cockney hero Henry Cooper who has known the peer for more than 20 years. "I think he would make a good Mayor for London," said Mr Cooper. " He is a strong character which is what London wants and needs."

Another heavyweight from another generation, Frank Bruno, went to the Conservative Winter Ball with Lord Archer and said: "He's a classy guy, very intelligent, yeah classy ... know what I mean Harry." Other showbusiness invitees to Lord Archer's parties include Terry Wogan, Sir Donald Sinden, Jim Davidson, Selina Scott, Nigel Havers, Clive James, Anne Diamond, Jane Asher and her cartoonist husband Gerald Scarfe.

Influential voices in the media are also represented including David Frost, Andrew Neil, Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, The Guardian's political editor Michael White and the BBC's political editor Robin Oakley. John Humphrys is sometimes present, although this had not stopped him from giving Lord Archer a torrid time BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But the politicians are under the spotlight for falling for the Archer line. Most are saying nothing. A few who did, talked of being let down. Gyles Brandreth, broadcaster and Tory MP said: "Jeffrey has made fools of those of us who have defended him all down the years, but we'll get over it." A few, such as Lord Lamont, gave equivocal support, saying: "I am very sorry for Jeffrey. He clearly did wrong but I think the newspapers that originally entrapped him were badly in the wrong as well. I think that was utterly disgraceful. I am still his friend and I have nothing to add."

Ivan Massow, head of the Tory Mayoral policy committee, added: "Jeffrey's a remarkable person. When you meet him, he is larger than life. He wins you over and he promised he was clean."

Tory party chairman Michael Ancram said: "I talked to Jeffrey Archer about the ethics and integrity committee and he assured me there was nothing for the committee to address. We can all be wise with the benefit of hindsight." Sir Timothy Kitson, a senior Tory MP, had tried to warn Mr Ancram, but had been rebuffed. "I felt I was knocking my head against a brick wall."

Many will say Mr Ancram and his senior colleagues, instead of talking about hindsight, should have shown was a greater degree of foresight.

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