Norris considers protest over Archer victory

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Indy Politics

JEFFREY ARCHER was finally installed as the Conservative candidate for mayor of London yesterday - amid a chaotic press conference, renewed questions about his past and a marked lack of endorsement from his rival. The millionaire novelist clinched the Tory nomination, trouncing his nearest competitor, the former transport minister Steven Norris, by a convincing margin.

JEFFREY ARCHER was finally installed as the Conservative candidate for mayor of London yesterday - amid a chaotic press conference, renewed questions about his past and a marked lack of endorsement from his rival. The millionaire novelist clinched the Tory nomination, trouncing his nearest competitor, the former transport minister Steven Norris, by a convincing margin.

In a postal ballot of the party's members in the capital, Lord Archer won 70 per cent of the votes to Mr Norris's 28 per cent, on a high turnout of nearly 60 per cent. Or, as one cynic preferred to put it, the plonker finally beat the bonker.

His victory was welcomed by William Hague, who contrasted the one-member, one-vote selection with Labour's failure to choose its own candidate and Tony Blair's "obsession" with blocking Ken Livingstone. However, neither Mr Hague nor Michael Ancram, the party chairman, appeared at the declaration in London, and some senior party figures privately admitted that an Archer candidacy was a "nightmare".

As Lord Archer and his wife, Mary, swept in to face the press at Conservative Central Office, proceedings descended into farce when it emerged that, on the orders of the Tory peer, the press conference would not involve any questions to the two men. Michael Crick, the novelist's biographer and determined stalker, led questions about his Anglia TV share deals and was manhandled out of the way by his burly chauffeur.

Mr Norris, who said that the idea to gag the event was "certainly not" his, had previously vowed that he would not support Lord Archer "dead or alive" - and he steadfastly refused to give his backing to his rival even as he was pictured shaking his hand.

Like a terrorist hostage forced to smile for the cameras, Mr Norris, said: "I pledge to do everything I can to ensure the right outcome for the Conservative Party in the mayoral election."

Later his camp made it clear that the best thing for the Tories would be an Archer defeat, and even suggested that Mr Norris would make an official complaint about allegations that Lord Archer had received unfair access to membership lists.

Lord Archer said: "I will fight with all my energy to make the city in which I was born the safest, cleanest, the most racially tolerant, the most culturally aware and the most competently administered. In a sentence, the most civilised city on earth."

William Hill installed Lord Archer as the 7-4 favourite to win the mayoral race next May. Mr Livingstone is second favourite on 3-1; followed by Nick Raynsford 9-2; Tony Banks 8-1; and Trevor Phillips and Glenda Jackson on 10-1.

Mr Livingstone was quick to use the result as proof that Labour would be wrong to underestimate Lord Archer and pointed out that polls showed that he was the only Labour candidate capable of beating Lord Archer. "The choice facing Tony Blair is not between the Labour mayor of his dreams or me, but a choice between Jeffrey Archer as mayor or me. It would be a disaster for London if Jeffrey Archer was to become mayor," he said.

Lord Archer's triumph marks a spectacular return to front-line politics for a man who has staged more comebacks than Status Quo. He said at the start of the three-month Tory selection contest that he was "no saint", and the Norris campaign and his own gaffability combined to put the outcome at risk. A man described by Willie Whitelaw as "an accident waiting to happen", he looked to have severely undermined his chances with off-the- cuff comments such as that black women used to be overweight and badly dressed.

As his friends said, such remarks were "just Jeffrey being Jeffrey"; his popularity on the rubber-chicken circuit, backed by a strong team, enabled him to win comprehensively. Having survived allegations in the London Evening Standard about his past record, his round-the-clock campaigning proved he was the most energetic runner. Mr Norris, whose campaign was hit by his estranged wife's criticism of his declaration that he would marry his mistress, was simply out-fought.

Even as Lord Archer tried to show his multi-cultural credentials yesterday by pre-empting the announcement with a visit to a mosque in Brick Lane, east London, controversy followed. One local cafe owner claimed he had promised to pay for his shop to be rebuilt after a racist nailbomb - in return for his vote. The Tory peer vigorously denied the claim.

But it is not all bad news. The author of Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less confirmed yesterday that he would not be writing any more books as long as he was a mayoral candidate.

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