Steven Norris: No, I haven't been sacked by IDS. And yes, I will see off Ken

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The Independent Online

The Rolex has gone. It was ripped off by a mugger. The Blancpain is at the mender's; Steven Norris is reduced to wearing a black plastic Swatch.

The ambition is still there, however. He uses this interview to send a blunt message to Iain Duncan Smith, the leader of his party, that he wants to be the Conservative candidate for mayor of London again.

This may sound like breathtaking cheek. After all, it was only a month ago that he warned Mr Duncan Smith that he was "on probation" and that if he took the party to the right, he would lose thousands of Conservative supporters.

It was assumed that they would include Mr Norris. The speculation that he would defect to Labour or the Liberal Democrats increased with the appointment of more rightwing die-hards and Eurosceptics to the front bench, including Bill Cash.

Mr Norris is adamant. He is not leaving the party now, or ever. And he has not fallen out with Mr Duncan Smith. In fact, the speculation that he has been sacked by the leader as a vice-chairman of the party is not quite true. He has not received any notice from Central Office saying he has been sacked and he will be at the Tory conference in Blackpool for the duration.

Mr Norris, 56, who was minister for Transport for London in the Major government, is a Liverpudlian – an active Everton fan – who made a fortune selling cars, and was at pains to stress they were not second-hand. He won a by-election in the Essex constituency of Epping Forest, and his ministerial career survived in spite of the tabloid scandal that followed the disclosure of his five love affairs. Having divorced and left Parliament, he is now settled now with Emma and their three-year-old son, Harry.

He became the Conservative candidate for mayor of London after Jeffrey Archer was forced by speculation over the charge of perjury to pull out of the race. Mr Norris now has a string of directorships and a lucrative consultancy with Citigate, the public relations company. He is still often taken for an MP, although he left Westminster five years ago. His ready recognition with the public could prove invaluable. He is convinced that next time he can beat Ken Livingstone.

"I am itching to take on the job that Ken is making such a mess of. Ken is a man with many decent instincts, but absolutely no competence to deliver. A combination of him and the Labour government has set London back in a way the Conservatives never did.

"As of now, I am up for it. The time to declare will be a year from now and I accept there will be other candidates. I don't know when Jeffrey gets parole, but I want to be the Conservative candidate.

"Ken is popular but, without sounding carping, that level of popular support will evaporate. The only impact of Ken's mayoralty is that there are now more pigeons in Trafalgar Square than there ever were."

For good measure, he adds: "I will not run as an independent. I will not run as a Labour candidate or anything other than a Conservative candidate and that's the nomination I am going to be seeking."

The right-wingers appointed by Mr Duncan Smith to the Tory front bench do not disturb him. Mr Norris believes the leader has silenced them by giving them jobs. Mr Norris says he has a common goal with Mr Duncan Smith in wanting to make the party relevant again, and to enable it to win again.

He has some serious advice for Mr Duncan Smith on cleaning up the Conservatives' allegedly racist image by telling Tory members to quit the Monday Club. "IDS must straightforwardly and absolutely unequivocally draw a line between himself and the Conservative Party on the one hand and any of these groups on the other. I agree with John Bercow [a Treasury member of the Shadow Cabinet] in calling for Iain to give Tory members a choice between the Conservative Party and the Monday Club.

"He has got to learn the lessons that Labour has learnt to create a party in which there is a sufficient proportion of visible ethnic minorities and women in the party hierarchy, among candidates, in the Shadow Cabinet, so that we give the impression of normality which is so important."

Mr Norris strongly supported Michael Portillo for the leadership, and voted for Ken Clarke when Mr Portillo dropped out. He is now convinced that Mr Duncan Smith wanted the leadership more. "Had Portillo tried harder, he could have won," he says.

And he has some advice for Tony Blair on late fatherhood: "Don't do it too often."

Biography

1945 Steven John Norris born.

Educated Liverpool Institute and Worcester College, Oxford.

1969 Marries Peta Veronica and has two sons; later divorces, and marries Emma, one son.

1977-85 Member of Berkshire County Council, becoming deputy leader of Tory group.

1983-87 MP for Oxford East; parliamentary private secretary to Nicholas Ridley and Ken Baker.

1988 Returned to Parliament in by-election at Epping Forest; junior transport minister with responsibility for London.

1997 Retires from Commons and becomes Tory candidate for Mayor of London.

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