The outcast: Tory party turns on Archer as Hague withdraws whip

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The Independent Online
LORD ARCHER of Weston-super-Mare faced near-certain expulsion from the Conservative Party last night and a legal challenge that may re-examine claims that he slept with a prostitute.

Lord Archer's political career was in effect killed off after William Hague stripped him of the party whip in the House of Lords and ordered an investigation into allegations against him. The millionaire novelist's troubles deepened still further when the Daily Star announced that it would appeal against a pounds 500,000 damages award made to Lord Archer at the end of a libel trial in 1987.

The trial, which was brought by the peer over claims that he slept with a prostitute, Monica Coghlan, cleared him of the allegations. Lord Archer stepped down as Tory candidate for mayor of London on Saturday after he admitted asking a friend, Ted Francis, to provide him with a false alibi by saying they had had dinner together on a certain night.

Executives at the newspaper, published by Express Newspapers, said they were disputing the judgment on the basis of new evidence. Their lawyers have written to the disgraced politician, asking him to repay the damages and costs awarded plus interest - a sum said to amount to more than pounds 3m. Scotland Yard said there were unlikely to be any immediate developments in the criminal investigation and that it would take time to ascertain the extent of the inquiries needed.

Mr Hague attempted to deflect criticism of his own treatment of Lord Archer yesterday by withdrawing the whip from him in the Lords, in effect expelling him from the parliamentary party and preventing him from sitting on the Conservative benches. The Tory leader also instigated the first inquiry by the Tories' own Ethics and Integrity Committee when he referred Lord Archer on the basis of bringing the party into disrepute.

Mr Hague claimed that he had acted swiftly once a substantial allegation was made. "This is the end of politics for Jeffrey Archer," he said. "Let me make this clear - I will not tolerate behaviour like this is in my party. This will be an example to others and I will not hesitate to act in the same way in the future. The Conservative Party is changing; in the past, such matters have dragged on for weeks, but this has been dealt with in a matter of days. He has let the Conservative Party down badly. "

Earlier in the day, Mr Hague was asked if he took any blame himself, as he had endorsed Lord Archer. He replied: "No, we were given false assurances by Jeffrey Archer and as soon as we have had an allegation which has been substantiated and proved to be true we have acted quickly and correctly."

Senior Tory figures were lining up to denounce Lord Archer. Michael Ancram, the party chairman, made clear that the leadership, MPs and ordinary members had now turned their backs on the Tory peer. Asked whether his political career was now over, Mr Ancram said: "I think that is a realistic assessment."

Amid suggestions of further revelations, journalist Adam Raphael of The Economist, told Channel 4 News he doubted whether Lord Archer's dinner companion on the key night was his aide Andrina Colquhoun - the reason he gave for asking Mr Francis for a false alibi - since there was nothing unusual about them being together. He added: "I know the name of that person he was dining with that night, at least I know what was in his diary."

Opposition parties sought to capitalise on the affair and Cabinet Office Minister, Mo Mowlam, said Mr Hague must take some responsibility for the debacle. "William Hague said he supported Jeffrey Archer because of his integrity and probity. That was obviously flawed judgement because those are certainly not words you would associate with Jeffrey Archer."

The Tories also seemed to be in a struggle to find a new candidate as a series of prominent names touted as possibles ruled themselves out. The former ministers David Mellor and Virginia Bottomley were named as potential runners.

Lord Archer yesterday remained inside his Cambridgeshire home, from where he signalled at least a temporary retreat from public life by scrapping appointments to turn on the Christmas-tree lights at a London restaurant and appear at a newspaper charity function on Saturday.

His assistant Stephan Shakespeare told reporters: "He knows he has done wrong and he is exceptionally sorry." He said Lord Archer had also spent the day writing letters of apology: "He's extremely upset, extremely sorry, couldn't be more sorry. He's on the floor."