Archer: Is he or isn't he?

The disgraced Tory peer says he's rejoining the Party. A senior member of the shadow cabinet says, 'Oh my God, no!' What is going on? By Marie Woolf
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Indy Politics

He's back. Just as the Conservative Party thought it was safe to bask in a little limelight again, a door could be heard creaking open yesterday as one of their most feared skeletons emerged clanking from the cupboard. Lord Archer, aka prisoner FF8282 and a reminder of all the party would like to forget, was said to have told an Australian newspaper he had rejoined the Conservative Party.

That was at breakfast time. By elevenses, his local London branch had denied receiving any such application, let alone accepting it. But by lunch, the branch nearest his Cambridge place in the country was saying that er, yes, a Jeffrey Archer had applied to join, but this had been immediately referred to party headquarters. By teatime, the full ensemble of party spokesmen was doing all it could to force the disreputable bones of past scandals back inside the closet.

A spokesman for David Cameron, expected to be anointed as successor to party leader Michael Howard next month, said the former Tory deputy chairman would not be welcome. "David Cameron's view is that Jeffrey Archer's days as an active politician are over and there would be no question of him taking the Conservative whip in the Lords," he said.

Meanwhile, in other news, Archer's latest novel is due out soon. It will be entitled False Impression.

This new saga all began, as Archer himself might write, with an interview in The Australian. The British Press Association reported: "The disgraced peer revealed he recently rejoined his local party in Vauxhall, south London, after serving a five-year expulsion from the party." It said Archer had also " spoken privately to the chief whip about going back on Tory benches".

This was not, to put it mildly, welcome news for Her Majesty's loyal opposition, now in the final furlongs of a long leadership campaign and beginning to breathe sighs of relief that nothing untoward had rocked the Tory boat. "Oh my God, no! Are you sure? Oh God," was the reaction of one senior member of the shadow cabinet. It was understandable. Lord Archer is a convicted perjurer and legendary publicity-seeker, with a well-honed reputation for being, on occasion, economical with the verité. As his "fragrant" wife Mary is said to have put it, he has a "talent for inaccurate précis".

Over in south London, hardly a membership card's throw from Archer's Thameside penthouse, colour was draining from local Conservative cheeks. Officials in the central London association of Vauxhall were more than surprised. They had no knowledge of an application from a Lord Archer.

One Tory party source said: "Lord Archer has applied for membership of South Cambridgeshire but they have not accepted it. The application has been referred to Conservative campaign headquarters. It's not yet being considered. They have sought our advice." A spokesman for the Tory party said: "We have no record of Lord Archer rejoining the Conservative Party." Archer had certainly not paid his £15 membership subscription fee, he added hastily. This was not the first time the line between Archer truth and reality had blurred. Ennobled by John Major in 1992, he was stripped of Tory membership after allegations that he fabricated an alibi for a 1987 libel case against a newspaper, which claimed he tried to pay off a prostitute, Monica Coghlan. He was found guilty of perjury and perverting justice in July 2001, sentenced to four years and freed in 2003, apparently after sharing a landing with murderers.

A raking over his past revealed he had form in embroidering the facts. But Archer has not faced the ignominy of being stripped of his title as well as the Tory whip and is believed to love the House of Lords. He is keen to sit again on the Tory benches and was reported to have demanded the return of the Tory whip yesterday . The peer has been spotted in its red corridors recently, and it is understood he took "the oath", which allows him to attend debates as a "non-affiliated" peer. But claim that he has taken steps to formally sit in the Lords as a Tory peer again, was greeted with bafflement in Conservative headquarters yesterday. Lord Strathclyde, the affable leader of the Conservatives in the Lords, was taken aback by such reports. "Lord Strathclyde has had no contact with Archer. Strathclyde was not aware of any conversation taking place - not this side of the election anyway," said a friend of the hereditary peer. "Maybe Lord Archer bumped into someone in a corridor in the Lords and mentioned it, we don't know. If anything has happened it will have been at a very informal level."

LIFE AND TIMES

1940 BORN IN London. He later implied he was born in Somerset and that his father was a war hero. In fact, he was a bigamist who fled to New York to avoid arrest.

1963 AT OXFORD, Archer studied for a diploma in education, after claiming he had six O-levels and three A-levels. In fact, he had three O-levels and no A-levels.

1966 MARRIED TO Mary Weeden. She described herself in the marriage certificate as a "research graduate". So did he. She was. He wasn't.

1975 RESIGNED FROM Parliament when he was declared bankrupt after Aquablast, a fraudulent Canadian cleaning firm in which he had invested his life savings, went bust.

1987 WON DAMAGES of £500,000 from the Daily Star after it claimed he slept with prostitute Monica Coghlan. Fourteen years later he was jailed when the alibi he had prepared was proved false. The Star got its cash back.

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