Norris enters final round as clear favourite

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The Independent Online
STEVE NORRIS' campaign to become Mayor of London was firmly back on track last night after Tory activists voted to let him through to the final stage of their selection process.

The former transport minister made the final ballot for the Conservative candidacy after winning the approval of more than 1,000 party members. Mr Norris topped the poll at the crucial selection meeting in West London with 354 votes, well ahead of former council leader Andrew Boff on 210.

Mr Norris was last night quoted as 5-1 third favourite to become mayor by the bookmaker William Hill, who make Ken Livingstone the clear, 5-6 favourite, with Frank Dobson at 15-8, Glenda Jackson 9-1, Susan Kramer 80-1 and Mr Boff 100-1.

Conservative Central Office insiders reacted with undisguised relief as Mr Norris cleared the penultimate stage of the selection system, claiming the party now had a real chance of beating Mr Dobson or Mr Livingstone in the mayoral election next May.

The contest was spiced up yesterday with the announcement by Malcolm McLaren, the godfather of punk, that he will also run for Mayor, as an independent. His campaign includes pledges to legalise brothels opposite the Houses of Parliament, drinking in libraries and cannabis cafes.

It is that kind of spice that Mr Norris is trying to live without. Crucially, the former Tory MP's "colourful" private life and forthright views failed to derail him during the four-hourmeeting at Holland Park School. Mr Norris said the result reflected "enormously well" on the party. "All's well that ends well," he said.

Less than four days after he was ditched by a London selection panel, only to have the decision reversed by William Hague, Mr Norris proved yet again that he is one of the Tories' great survivors. The 20-strong panel had plunged the party into chaos at the weekend when it voted to bar him from the race in the wake of objections from his local association.

The former MP was reinstated on Tuesday after constituency chairmen rallied to his cause and overturned the decision. Yet he had flirted with danger, denouncing his accusers as a "monstrous regiment" of women and claiming his opponents were "squeaky clean losers". But having assured Mr Hague that there were no more skeletons in his cupboard, the man famous for having five mistresses is now the clear front-runner for the Tory nomination.