The Tories in Bournemouth: Rubber-chicken circuit sustains Archer in his extraordinary absence

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The Independent Online
LORD ARCHER confirmed yesterday that his duties as a Conservative peer would prevent him attending the conference this week, his first absence from the annual gathering in more than a decade.

He told the Independent - in his first public comment since admitting a 'grave error' over his involvement in the purchase of Anglia TV shares - that he would be on the government benches in the House of Lords 'voting assiduously' during the coming week. He will be wrestling with the Deregulation Bill and the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

Claims that he had issued a private 'back me or I'll stop my famous fund-raising rallying' to party chiefs were dismissed by Lord Archer as 'total invention.'

Nevertheless, self-imposed exile from Bournemouth, for a man tipped in January to be a serious chairmanship contender, will be viewed as a fall from grace.

Although Tory chiefs and king-makers will this year mourn the absence of shepherd's pie and Krug at the annual Archer bash, they may mourn even more unless Lord Archer delivers further information on the deal which netted an pounds 80,000 profit from shares in the television company where his wife is a director. As one City source said: 'Until we find out where the money went, pressure will remain on Lord Archer to explain.'

Lord Archer again said 'no comment' to questions on Anglia. But at his penthouse apartment in London yesterday, as he looked out towards the Houses of Parliament, he said he had read in the Daily Mail the comments of Lord McAlpine.

The former Tory treasurer and deputy chairman had said Lord Archer's 'grave error' apology was a 'monstrous understatement', and said to the millionaire author: 'Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.'

The problem for the Conservatives is that Lord Archer has nothing to resign from. As one party insider said: 'Talk of him going is nonsense. If the Anglia mess hangs around, the party will just quietly disown him.'

However, the party appears reluctant to distance itself from its most successful flag-waver. Invitations to speak at constituency functions - the 'rubber chicken' circuit - are estimated by one party source to be running at 20 a week. Charities appear no less keen to sign up the Archer magic.

Last week, Lord Archer's engagements included attendance at a Red Cross 'corporate lunch'; fund-raising for the Bud Flannagan Leukemia Fund; auctioning at the Henry Cooper Classic to raise funds for the Royal Marsden Hospital; a speech at the Eton College Political Society; auctioneering for the Whizz Kids wheelchair appeal at the Grosvenor House Hotel; and a speech to budding entrepreneurs at the Birmingham NEC.

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