Hague blamed for Norris reselection `shambles'

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE'S leadership came under renewed fire last night when senior Tories attacked the "shambles" over the party's selection of its candidate for mayor of London. MPs blamed Mr Hague for the chaos as Steven Norris was restored to the Conservative shortlist less than 72 hours after he was excluded.

Mr Norris emerged triumphant when Michael Ancram, the Tory chairman, announced the Board of the party would let him back into the race.

The decision means that the flamboyant former transport minister will be one of six hopefuls allowed to appear tonight before 1,500 London members at a hustings meeting. Mr Hague admitted the past three days had been difficult for the party, but contrasted Conservative democracy with "Labour's dictatorial control".

However, even Tory MPs normally loyal to their leader admitted the disarray had raised serious questions about his judgement and prompted renewed speculation at Westminster about a move to oust him before the general election.

Privately, Hague allies conceded his "hands off" approach to the selection process had backfired. Mr Hague had maintained that the choice of candidate was a matter for London party members, but he is now being blamed for the confusion and for not blocking Jeffrey Archer's bid much earlier.

A delighted Mr Norris said he was relieved the decision would now rest in the hands of the party's 40,000 members in the capital.

Asked if he expected any more revelations about his love life to come out, he said: "I am not completely insane and I would have to be if I was going to go into an election like this knowing there was some skeleton lurking in my cupboard."