Max Hastings 'It is an ugly, sordid story. For 30 years, Archer made fools of Tory leaders.'

Open the Krug - Mr Toad has got his comeuppance
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The Independent Online

Are they all blushing now, the Margaret Thatchers, John Majors, William Hagues – even that saintly ass the Archbishop of Canterbury – who embraced and promoted Jeffrey Archer, together with the swarm of other politicians, dignitaries and media celebs who jostled to drink his champagne?

Good old Jeff. Jeff's a card, isn't he? Jeff's a one-off. You must admire the way he came back from nothing. You have to go to those parties, everyone does. You've got to admit, he's a useful bloke to have around if you're running a charity auction or a Conservative Party. He's a laugh, Jeff. You don't have to believe everything he says. Don't know how Mary puts up with it. OK, the books are awful, but somehow you just go on reading them.

These are the limp, sodden phrases a thousand important people used a thousand times to explain why they hobnobbed with that Olympic-class charlatan, invited him to Downing Street, gave him political jobs, and finally endorsed him as the official Tory candidate to become mayor of London.

For those of us who always thought Archer was a crook and never went near his parties, the mayoralty was the last straw. For all Archer's protestations that he had been cleared of wrongdoing over his 1994 Anglia shares deal, the truth was that he escaped prosecution only because of insufficient evidence.

Few reasonable people believed that he arranged a £2,000 cash payment to a prostitute out of the kindness of his heart. Most of those who studied his 1987 libel case against the Daily Star assumed he must have perjured himself to win. He was aided by the brilliant advocacy of Robert Alexander, who undoubtedly believed Archer's story, and by the gullibility of a silly judge.

A host of acquaintances who had suffered Archer's relentless boasting about his sexual exploits listened in disbelief when Mr Justice Caulfield suggested to the jury that no man married to the fragrant Mary could have looked twice at Monica Coghlan.

Judgment and discretion were as alien to Archer as truth. Yet John Major gave his old crony ermine in gratitude. The Conservative Party, with Thatcher's and Major's warm endorsements, proposed him to run London. There seemed a real possibility that he might get the job.

Many people accepted that Archer was bent. Yet his fans, even the famous and powerful ones, remained loyal. They complained about the Evening Standard's campaign against him. At the televised mayoral debate in the Guildhall two years ago, Sir Norman Fowler took me bitterly to task for our attacks on Archer: it really won't do, said the great Tory statesman, wagging an admonitory finger as Jeremy Paxman looked on in bewilderment.

Any one of the controversial incidents in his past would have sufficed to dish another man with his ambitions. Yet he persuaded many, especially in politics and the media, to discount his history simply because it had become so familiar.

No man has ever diverted charity fundraising to the purposes of his own ego with such cynicism. Few courtiers have used flattery with less subtlety and more success in opening political doors.

In a brazen, amazingly effective double-bluff, he sold the message that because everybody knew he was shameless, vulgar, boastful, cavalier with the truth, somehow that was all right then. He flaunted the awful persona he had created. He marketed himself brilliantly as Mr Toad. And, like Toad, he persuaded an astonishing number of people who should have known better, including three successive Tory leaders, to tolerate, indulge, use him and be used by him.

And now Mr Toad has got his comeuppance. But this will not guarantee his silence. God help us, he might write another book.

No one who has read the evidence of the past two months at the Old Bailey could any longer find the exploits of Toad funny. For so many years, this grotesque cuckoo in the nest of British public life bamboozled so many people, and got away with so much, that in 1987 one more fraud, to extract huge sums from the Daily Star, did not seem to pose much risk. He contrived a complex, cold-blooded conspiracy which enmeshed a string of friends and associates. Heaven knows what his solicitor thought he was doing, paying large sums of money to a potential key witness to stay out of the country. Heaven knows how even the ice maiden Mary could have brought herself to give evidence on his behalf.

It is an ugly, sordid story, the revelation of which has laid Jeffrey Archer bare. For more than 30 years he has made fools of Tory political leaders, the justice system, the party-groupies who worship at the feet of celebrity. He was tripped up when trying to make fools of the people of London.

It might be claimed that he deserves a smidgeon of pity. Save it for a better cause. The Evening Standard cannot claim the credit for having brought down Archer, which belongs to the News of the World reporters who induced Ted Francis to come clean about his false alibi. But everyone who saw Archer for what he was, when Tory Cabinet ministers and media stars were still flocking to his door, is entitled to celebrate. It seems a moment to open the Krug.

The author is editor of the London 'Evening Standard', where this piece first appeared

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