Jeffrey Archer has been one of the most controversial figures in British political life for the past twentyfive years, during which time he has lived very dangerously indeed. That he should eventually have been caught in the net of a false alibi concocted, as it turned out, for the wrong night and that, anyway, was never needed provided an ironic twist that may yet serve him well in a future novel. The essential point about Archer's career is that he was accepted into the higher reaches of the political establishment even though his dubious background was well documented. At least two books and many newspaper articles have detailed the trail of his deceptions and halftruths from his days at university, at the Greater London Council where he was an elected member, and subsequently in business and politics. His style was to dismiss such allegations out of hand as hatchet jobs and, astonishingly, people of great substance accepted his assurances. Margaret Thatcher at least had the good sense to keep him out of the Cabinet but John Major elevated him to the House of Lords and William Hague vouched for his integrity as candidate for Mayor of London. Yet there were dozens of people with first hand experience of Archer who knew his true nature. Eventually one of them shopped him when it became clear that he had Conservative party support for his London mayoral bid. Archer's highwire act is over. He may appeal against the sentences passed on him but it is inconceivable that he could ever resume a political career. It is likely that yesterday's judgement will breach a dam that has held back other revelations and it is unlikely in future that Archer will be able to stop them, as he has in the past, by threat of legal action. Meanwhile the Conservative Party and, because they they show similar tendencies, the Labour Party also should now ask themselves why they are such a soft touch for men with money and charisma.
Tube plans derailed
Britain's Labour government has not been lucky with the devolution programme it carried out so speedily in its first term in office. The decision to create a Mayor of London with a number of important devolved responsibilities has, in particular, yielded more problems than benefits. This is partly because of the personality of the elected mayor, Ken Livingstone, but it is also the result of an inherent flaw in the nature of devolution illustrated by the current row over the future of London Underground. Vast sums of money are needed to modernise the Tube whose operations are now the responsibility of Mr Livingstone and his appointed American expert Bob Kiley. However the money has to come from the government which believes that a public/private partnership (PPP) is the right way to raise it. Mr Kiley disagrees and has been dismissed by the government from the board of London Transport although he remains Commissioner of Transport for London paid, presumably, from Mr Livingstone's budget. Mr Kiley says that PPP will replicate the worst features of the privatisation of Britain's railways. The government says that the money for the Tube will come from taxes paid by people all over Britain and so it must decide how best to raise it. The two sides are due to see each other in the High Court next week where Mr Kiley will allege that the proposed PPP deal will put Underground safety at risk.
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