Jonathan Aitken, the former Tory Cabinet minister who went to prison for committing perjury, has revealed he is applying to become an MP in his former seat of South Thanet.
The former chief secretary to the Treasury says he was "moved, amazed, humbled" to be asked by Tory activists to put his name forward to represent the Kent constituency.
Mr Aitken, who became prisoner CB9298 in June 1999 after lying during a libel action he brought against The Guardian and Granada Television, says he was handed a copy of a petition begging Tory Central Office to allow him to stand again.
"This petition has been signed by more than 200 local Tory activists. Since the South Thanet Conservative Association consists of 355 members, the number of signatories is significant," Mr Aitken wrote in today's Spectator magazine.
The former Belmarsh prisoner has turned to God. He has applied for the seat, which includes the town of Sandwich, along with 100 other Tory hopefuls and believes that being allowed to stand as MP again would aid his full rehabilitation.
"My offence of perjury took place seven years ago, I am coming close to formal rehabilitation, which happens to me informally, in many circumstances all the time," he said. "So perhaps the judgement of the Thanet petitioners that political rehabilitation can work now is not so unreasonable." But yesterday Tory Central Office was adamant that Mr Aitken, whose downfall acutely embarrassed the party, would not fight the Labour seat - if only for a technical reason. "He can't be on the Tory benches because his name is not on the official candidates list," said a senior Conservative source. Mr Aitken, who once attacked the press with a "simple sword of truth", said his former constituents had told him he had been forgiven.
He said he had been told: "Round here you've been forgiven and rehabilitated. You paid your debt to society.
"We want you back because so many people remember what a good MP you were, because they still respect you and because we believe you would be the best man to win the votes, especially here in Ramsgate."
Mr Aitken lost the South Thanet seat to Labour in 1997, before the libel action which led to his imprisonment.Reuse content