Asda boss selected as Tory candidate

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The Independent Online
Archie Norman, the chairman of Asda, the supermarket chain, was last night selected as the Conservative candidate for Tunbridge Wells, and became the first top businessman for years to move from commerce to politics.

He pulled no punches at the selection conference to beat two other candidates who have been on the circuit for some time, Professor Philip Treleaven, and Sarah Whitehouse, a barrister formerly with BZW.

Mr Norman, on the left of the Tory party, told last night's meeting that he was against hanging and certainly not a Euro-sceptic.

But his most difficult job was in convincing "disgusted" of Tunbridge Wells that he could win the constituency for the Conservatives against a strong challenge from the Liberal Democrats.

He was inheriting a 17,000 majority from Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is retiring, and told the constituency he would remain a part-time chairman of Asda alternating between his base in Yorkshire and a new home in his seat.

Mr Norman, 42, married with a 12-year-old daughter, has had a big impact on the Government through his business, successfully fighting for the Chancellor to abandon plans to tax share options. But he denied he was being foisted on the seat by Central Office.

"I'm afraid it isn't like that," he said. "It's very unusual to find a successful business person going into politics now. I think that is a pity. I think Parliament and the constituents need to have people with experience of the real world of work with ordinary working people.

"I have devoted the last five years of my life to Asda. I am still dedicated to them and I'm not going to walk away from that. I think it will work well with my responsibility here."

Mr Norman had powerful support. His candidacy is understood to have been supported by former President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, and Welsh Secretary William Hague, who like Mr Norman used to work at McKinseys, a leading firm of management consultants.

Intensely ambitious, the supermarket chief is described by Asda colleagues as "a cold fish with little time for small talk", raising doubts about his likely political touch at Westminster.

Mr Norman, educated at Cambridge and Harvard, has been a Tory-approved candidate for 15 years. He turned the Leeds-based supermarket chain around from losses of pounds 365m in 1992 to a pounds 304m profit last year.