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Norris wins backing of Tories to rejoin race for mayor

STEVEN NORRIS, the former Tory transport minister, announced yesterday that he would rejoin the race for London mayor, after reassurance from senior figures that neither his extra-marital affairs nor his pro- gay rights stance would pose problems for the party.

Although William Hague will not publicly endorse Mr Norris at this stage, the former minister said yesterday that he was sure he had approval at all levels. He said: "I wouldn't have dreamt of standing if I felt that it wasn't something William Hague and his colleagues would be keen on."

Mr Norris, a confirmed heterosexual who never denied tabloid reports that he had had several affairs, briefly seemed likely to be hit by controversy over the Conservatives' stance on Section 28. Shaun Woodward, the Tories' London spokesman, was sacked last week for his opposition to the rule banning promotion of homosexuality in schools, and Mr Norris shares his view. However, the party leadership has made it clear that mayoral candidates are not bound by the same strict rules as frontbenchers. Mr Norris said yesterday: "As it happens, I don't take the same view as William and he has made it very clear that that's a matter for me. I think it's very healthy to have that degree of independence, and I know that William feels the same."

The party needed a credible candidate, not necessarily one with a spotless personal life, he added. "I think this is what the Conservatives need. They need someone who can actually win. You can either say it is fortunate or unfortunate that all my skeletons are dancing around the pages of any tabloid you care to read. I'm not proud of that, I'm not promoting that. I simply think that you are what you are."

Mr Norris, 54, was beaten to the nomination in the first run of the selection process by Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, who was later forced to withdraw after admitting he asked a friend to provide a false alibi for Daily Star libel trial in 1987.

Other candidates for the Conservative nomination include John Wilkinson, the Ruislip Northwood MP; Mark Kotecha, an Internet businessman; Bernard Gentry, a former Lambeth Conservative group leader; Baroness Miller, the Tory frontbench spokeswoman on Greater London in the Lords; and Ivan Massow and Andrew Boff, both businessmen.

Last night Lurline Champagnie, a black Conservative councillor in Harrow and a regular speaker at Tory conferences, announced her intention to stand. There were rumours that the former Asda chairman and Conservative Europe spokesman, Archie Norman, might stand, but last night he had made no declaration. Nominations close today.

Labour's campaign ran into fresh trouble as Frank Dobson's supporters were forced to deny a report that he was depressed and might drop out of the race. A spokesman for Mr Dobson described the report as rubbish. "He is doing the job because he wants to do it. He cares passionately about London. He has been in London politics for something like 30 years and he wants a strong focus on tackling inequality here," he said.

The spokesman promised full co-operation with an investigation by the Data Protection Registrar into whether Mr Dobson's use of party membership lists was in breach of the law. "Everything has been done according to the rules," he said.