Rumours of depressiondog Dobson as Norris rejoins race Norris wins backing of Tories and rejoins 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.

Among Labour candidates for mayor, backbiting continued as a government minister was reported in a Sunday newspaper as saying Frank Dobson was "on the verge of a breakdown". It was also reported that he is severely depressed. and could quit the race. Mr Dobson's aides described the unnamed minister's reported comments as "nasty malicious stuff" and said that any suggestion that the former health secretary was to back out of the race to become Labour's official candidate was untrue.

Mr Dobson's detractors yesterday leapt on comments made by his running mate, Trevor Phillips, who explained Mr Dobson's absence from a radio news programme by saying: "Frank is taking some time off to visit friends and family."

It was also reported yesterday that Mr Dobson felt his campaign was "run by Millbank" and that he had been pushed into entering by Tony Blair.

Like the Prime Minister, William Hague, the Tory leader, will not publicly endorse any of his party's candidates at this stage. However, Mr Norris said yesterday he was sure he had approval at all levels: "I wouldn't have dreamt of standing if I felt it wasn't something William Hague and his colleagues would be keen on."

Mr Norris, a confirmed heterosexual who never denied tabloid reports of several affairs, briefly seemed likely to be hit by controversy over the Conservatives' stance on Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Shaun Woodward, the Tories' London spokesman, was sacked last week for his opposition to the rule, 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 said. "[The Conservatives] 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, lost in the first selection run to Lord Archer of Weston- super-Mare, who was later forced to withdraw after admitting that he asked a friend to provide a false alibi for Daily Star libel trial in 1987.

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

Last night Lurline Champagnie, a black Conservative councillor in Harrow, announced her intention to stand. There were rumours that the former Asda chairman, Archie Norman, might also stand. Nominations close today.

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