The Box

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The Independent Online
IT IS NO SECRET that Lord Archer wants to be the mayor of London. Perhaps nobody in British history has ever campaigned more vigorously for a position which, as yet, does not exist. "I'm not a candidate. Yes, I am running," he told Pandora yesterday. There won't be any candidates until after the 7 May referendum tells us whether Londoners do or do not want to have an elected mayor.

Of course the polls show that a majority of Londoners will vote in favour of having a mayor. In the meantime, Archer's effort is entirely made up of volunteers, he says, including his new treasurer, wealthy businessman Greg Hutchings. "I haven't spent a penny," Archer assured me. "And I have written to Lord Neill, the Commissioner for Public Standards, to clarify this question of campaign expenses. He wrote back confirming that you can't be running until you're running." These somewhat torturous linguistic qualifications are absolutely necessary, for Archer is aware that he has enemies in Parliament who do not look fondly upon the prospect of him becoming London's mayor. Yesterday a parliamentary tongue wagged near Pandora's ear about a possible "snag" in Archer's plans.

At some point the Government, if there is going to be a mayoral election, will need to establish guidelines for candidates, including a limit on funds spent. (Prospective MPs are not allowed to spend more than pounds 10,000 in contesting a general election. That's hardly a round of drinks to someone in Archer's financial league.) As with parliamentary elections, it is expected that these mayoral spending limits will apply from the date a person first declares himself a candidate. According to Pandora's sources, some of Archer's opponents, reading of his "campaign trail" in the Telegraph on Saturday, licked their lips at the prospect of setting low spending limits that might have been exceeded by Archer long before the actual election in 1999 or 2000 came to pass. If they could prove something like that, they could move to have him disqualified from the race. But according to the master plotter of fictional tales, "We saw through that trap a long time ago." Repeat, he is not a candidate, but he's running.

THE UNIVERSITY of Cambridge has recently announced its set topics for the Sir William Browne Medal for Greek and Latin poems: "Exploring the Internet" (Greek) and "Cloning" (Latin). Pandora is accepting nominations for a new award (the Teletubbies Medal?) for people who make education absurdly relevant to our age.

RUMBLES from the ranks in William Hague's "brand-new" Tory party. The leader has summoned Conservative agents from all over southern England to an all-day conference meeting at glamorous London Docklands Arena. Their mission will be to choose candidates from the region for future Euro elections. The date set for this carousing is the Friday before the summer's first bank holiday. Whose brilliant idea was this? Many of the agents are blaming Archie Norman, the party's new deputy chairman and workaholic boss of Asda. Just to make matters worse, in Hague's own constituency of Richmond, the boy leader is soon to introduce his own loyal "new-brand" agent.

PANDORA noticed that barrister Tony Baldry was one of the Tory MPs who successfully filibustered against the anti-hunting Bill last week. In fact, he spoke for an hour. Could this possibly be the same Tony Baldry who, several years ago, successfully defended a woman hunt-saboteur, Caroline Wetton, who was charged with driving her car directly at hare courser Sir Rupert Mackeson?