Archer gave false assurances, says Hague

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Tory leader William Hague today said the Conservatives could still win the contest for London mayor as he claimed Jeffrey Archer had given the party "false assurances" before becoming its candidate.

Tory leader William Hague today said the Conservatives could still win the contest for London mayor as he claimed Jeffrey Archer had given the party "false assurances" before becoming its candidate.

Mr Hague, speaking for the first time about the weekend revelations surrounding Lord Archer, said as he arrived at Conservative Party Headquarters: "I am obviously very pleased that the London Executive decided last night to unanimously agree the recommendations from myself and the party chairman that a new selection board be held and a new candidate chosen in an open and democratic way.

"I think there remains a great opportunity for the Conservatives in London.

"We face a London Labour Party which is deeply divided. We have a Labour Party in a terrible fix about even how to choose its own candidate.

"We have an opportunity to put forward a real and credible alternative to that, and that is what we now have to do. We now have to move on and put this very regrettable episode behind us."

Asked if he felt any blame himself, as he had endorsed Lord Archer, Mr Hague said: "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."

Mr Hague added: "We have acted in good faith and in accordance with natural justice throughout."

candidates would not now automatically be referred to the party's ethics committee, he said, adding that allegations first had to be substantiated before they were acted on.

Asked if the Conservative whip would now be withdrawn from Lord Archer as he had brought the party into disrepute, he said: "I'm not taking a view about that.

"It is deeply regrettable that he has given false assurances to the party but our immediate task is to move onto the selection of a new candidate to do the best thing possible for the people of London."

Mr Hague's comments came after other members of the Tory high command made it clear that Lord Archer's political career was over.

Party chairman Michael Ancram agreed that there would be no public position in the party for the multi-millionaire novelist after weekend revelations that he concocted a false alibi in the run-up to a libel trial.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think that is a realistic assessment, given what has happened, yes."

Lord Archer's former campaign manager and close aide, Stephan Shakespeare, was asked on the same programme if the peer accepted his political career was at an end.

He said: "I'm sure he does. This is a man who has given a great, great deal on all different levels of life ... There's no way that this man's life is ever finished, there's always another chapter.

"He has creativity and vision and energy and he is going to be coming back and using that because that's the whole point of his life, but I think that we are not going to see him in that role (in the service of the Conservative Party)." Scotland Yard, meanwhile, has confirmed that senior detectives from its organised crime squad are investigating a complaint from the Daily Star, which paid Lord Archer £500,000 damages in 1987 after falsely claiming he had sex with a prostitute.

Its complaint was prompted by Lord Archer's admission that he had asked a friend to concoct a false alibi in the run-up to the famous High Court libel trial.

Daily Star editor Peter Hill said today he believed that some form of legal action was inevitable. "I would say he was at the very least guilty of an act that would be likely to pervert the course of justice ... in persuading his friend to tell lies for him," he said.

"When you go to court you expect that all the evidence will be heard and you expect the truth will be told. But in fact, all the evidence was not heard, because if the jury had known that Jeffrey Archer had persuaded his friend to lie for him, they wouldn't have been prepared to believe the rest of the things that he said," he argued.

A Conservative Central Office meeting last night of the party's mayoral selection executive decided to re-run the entire selection process from scratch.

The decision was a bitter blow for ex-transport minister Steven Norris who was the only other short-listed candidate last time around and who had been hoping that he would be the automatic choice.

Although he was widely seen as party leader William Hague's choice for the job, it was feared that simply giving him the nomination would smack of a political "fix".

However after party chairman Michael Ancram announced the new start, Mr Norris indicated that he might not stand again. "I understand why the party wants to go through this process, but from my own point of view I shall need to reflect on whether or not I want to participate," he said.

The uncertainty over whether Mr Norris would put his name forward prompted speculation that Archie Norman, the millionaire business turned MP who turned around the Asda store group, could emerge as a surprise frontrunner. Mr Norman, the party's Europe spokesman and a close ally of Mr Hague, last night refused to say whether he planned to run, but told PA News: "It is a very flattering suggestion."

Another heavyweight name being touted was that of the former prime minister John Major, although the prospects for that were seen as far less plausible, given his professed lack of enthusiasm for a return to high office.

Mr Norris today said he would be waiting to see who else entered the race before making a decision whether to run for the mayoral nomination again.

He told BBC's GLR radio: "I actually completely understand that they (the Tories) should want to go for a complete re-run. After all the Tory candidate will still be in place before the Labour candidate.

"It is not as if we will be entering the race late. The important thing is that we get it right this time.

"I think it is only right and sensible to see who else is considering putting their names forward before I decide whether I want to subject myself to another campaign."