Giving up! Pink faces all round

I'll work with Labour, says Major's London organiser
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The Independent Online
Steven Norris, the former minister of transport and chief election strategist in London for the Tories, has said that he is prepared to work with a Labour administration under Tony Blair.

Mr Norris, who described Tony Blair as "a nice chap" if a little too "Draconian", said: "If the present polls continue through to the election - and I am fighting to stop them - then Britain will wake up to a Labour government."

"With the advent of the next government it is important to remember that you have to offer the party in power - Conservative, as I hope, or Labour - new solutions," he said in an exclusive interview with The Independent.

Despite being famed for putting down his Labour peers at the despatch box, Mr Norris is quick to praise his opposite numbers. "I may disagree with Andrew Smith or Clare Short or friends like Keith Hill, Labour MP for Streatham who sits on the transport select committee, on certain issues that is politics - it does not go any further."

"I think on many social issues Labour has let people down. If there was a silver lining to a Labour government's cloud it would have been the lifting of the ban on gays in the military. However what happens with a bit of pressure - they retreat."

Mr Norris, who is leaving the Commons after the election, said: "I might disagree with Andrew Smith [the Labour front bench spokesman on transport] on whether fully-fledged privatisation or public private partnerships are the best way to improve the Tube. But I want what's best for the passenger and I will work for that."

He also admitted that bus deregulation, championed by the Conservatives, has its "weaknesses". "The sheer volume of competition has let in too many cowboys," he said.

"Labour are in a more comfortable territory in seeking to smooth the edges of the 1986 act whereas many of my right-wing friends would be difficult to be persuaded of any curbs on bus operators."

The former minister was careful to say he is not supporting the Labour party. "Vote for the social chapter, the minimum wage, the union bosses - that is New Labour. The electorate have to remember what this is really is about," he says.

"The problem for New Labour is that it is very difficult to justify intellectually what they really stand for," he added.

The MP for Epping Forest is no stranger to controversy. Only last week he got into hot water he said that protesters were right to oppose the Newbury bypass, adding for good measure that he opposed the chosen route.

He is also considered the most able Commons performer never to have made it to the cabinet table and is well-liked and respected by members of all political parties.

Although "left of the mainstream Conservative party on many social issues", Mr Norris remains a committed right-winger on economics and an political admirer of Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence.

His own career stalled when it was revealed that he had wooed five mistresses as well as a wife.

But he is credited by many observers for moving the department of transport from staunch support for road building to a more green position - now adopted by all the political parties.

Mr Norris will enter the private sector after this election as the head of the Road Haulage Association - the trade body for lorry fleet owners. His ability also drew a bus company to offer him a pounds 10,000 to work as a non-executive director.

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