Norris reprieved by Tories' `untidy' democracy

"THE PROCESS was designed to be democratic. Democracy is sometimes untidy." With characteristic understatement, the Tory chairman, Michael Ancram, attempted yesterday to explain exactly how his party had ended up in such a mess over the mayor.

Less than 72 hours after Steven Norris was dropped, Mr Ancram appeared on the steps of Conservative Central Office to announce that the flamboyant former minister was back in the race. The decision means that Mr Norris will tonight join five other candidates before an expected 1,500 party members at the crucial hustings meeting in west London.

As the former MP celebrated his reprieve with a round of typically forthright interviews, Tory backbenchers were furious that the selection had descended into "a shambles".

The 11th-hour move to restore him to the shortlist came after three days of further turmoil for a party already suffering from the trauma of Lord Archer's resignation.

William Hague stepped in yesterday morning to draw up the face-saving formula to allow Mr Norris another chance. The Tory leader had been forced to intervene after a rebellion on Monday night by constituency chairmen who objected to a decision by a small selection board to bar the former MP for Epping Forest.

In an attempt to defuse the issue, Mr Hague and Mr Ancram recommended to the Conservative Party Board that its mayoral shortlist of four candidates should be expanded to six. Both Sir Archie Hamilton, the chairman of the back-bench 1922 Committee, and Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, agreed wholeheartedly with the decision. Sir Archie said: "I think there was broad support among MPs for a wider field. Nobody could quite understand why Steve Norris had been excluded."

After a four-hour meeting, the 15-strong board unanimously agreed to allow Mr Norris back on the list. However, the collective sigh of relief among the Shadow Cabinet was short-lived as search for a scapegoat for the chaos began in earnest.

Some party insiders claimed last night that the whole problem stemmed from Mr Hague's decision to devolve the shortlisting process to the voluntary wing of the party instead of professional officers.

"This wouldn't have happened in the old days, when we had grandees who took care of these things. How you can leave such an important decision to amateurs is beyond me," said one source. A 20-strong panel of so-called amateurs plunged the party into chaos on Saturday when they decided that Mr Norris was unfit to be Tory candidate.

Toby Vincent, the chairman of the London region who led the Mayoral Selection Executive, was yesterday blamed for allowing the selection to get out of hand. One member of the executive said: "Toby's a wonderful campaigner, very enthusiastic and a great canvasser, but he has never held public office and to be honest was out of his depth."

Similarly, Roger Pratt, the London regional director, failed to offer any guidance to the "amateurs" about the consequences of their decision. Another insider said: "He should have gently pointed out that leaving out Norris at this stage would have impact on the wider party."

However, the Norris bandwagon could come to a shuddering halt tonight if he fails to impress the 1,500 party members at the hustings meeting at Holland Park School. With strong local support for Baroness Hanham, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, and a formidable party machine behind another candidate, Baroness Miller, Mr Norris is certainly not guaranteed to make the ballot paper.

Last night, a weary Central Office source tried to laugh off the events of the past few days. "Look on the bright side. It's a great way of ensuring that our candidate is on the front page for four days running," he said.

TORIES BEING BLAMED FOR THE MAYOR `SHAMBLES'

WILLIAM HAGUE

The Tory leader is criticised by some colleagues for failing to exclude Lord Archer in the summer. They claim that in his desire to portray the Tories as more democratic than Labour, Mr Hague forgot to exercise sensible control over the selection process.

MICHAEL ANCRAM

The party chairman was being blamed last night by some MPs furious at the chaos and confusion of recent days. Once Lord Archer had resigned, Mr Ancram

missed a golden opportunity to seize the initiative, his enemies say.

TOBY VINCENT

Critics of the chairman of the London region claim he has no experience of managing a party machine. Some party officers say that Bob Neill, the former London region chief, would never have allowed the voluntary wing to be so out of tune with Central Office.

TIM COLLINS

The senior vice-chairman of the party has been accused of undermining Mr Norris on behalf of his mother, Di Collins, one of the four Epping Forest Tories who complained about the ex-MPs extra-marital affairs. Allies of Mr Collins say he offered "advice" internally.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?