Sir Norman's resignation, ahead of the reshuffle expected next month, was widely forecast. As chairman, he presided over a critical period of financial reform of the Tory party organisation and funding. A report due out soon is expected to announce the biggest surplus for the Conservative Party.
The return to the backbenches will be Sir Norman's second retirement. He resigned in 1990 to spend more time with his family.
The speculation begins, page 2; Unpopular chairman, page 19
in Labour race
The Labour leadership contest will be fought out between three candidates. As nominations closed last night, Tony Blair, the present shadow Home Secretary, emerged as the runaway favourite to succeed John Smith. Mr Blair, along with the acting party leader, Margaret Beckett, and John Prescott, shadow Employment Secretary, will now begin their campaigning in earnest. The result will be announced on 21 July.
Mr Blair received 154 nominations from Labour MPs, Mr Prescott 46, and Mrs Beckett 42. The deputy leadership contest will be between Mr Prescott and Mrs Beckett.
The fight to be Blair's deputy, page 7; Letters, page 17
Ashdown to reorganise top team
Paddy Ashdown is set to reshuffle his Liberal Democrat team to meet the challenge of a new-look Labour Party. The shake-up of the Liberal Democrats' top jobs, which includes a boost in the prominence of the economic posts, is a move which Mr Ashdown believes will help to counteract his party's patchy performance in the European elections.
With the expected Conservative reshuffle next month, Mr Ashdown clearly believes he has to reinforce his message that the Liberal Democrats are still a growing force in British politics.
Aiming for a sharp image, page 6; Leading article, page 17Reuse content