TWO MONTHS OF PURGATORY FOR CENTRAL OFFICE

ON TUESDAY Steven Norris was safely reinstated on the mayoral candidates list and William Hague thought his problems were, if not over, at least eased, writes Jo Dillon. Little did he know.

Yesterday he was dealt a blow that many observers believe could prove fatal to his chances of remaining leader. The defection of Shaun Woodward to Labour is but the latest example of a party falling apart at the seams.

His, and his party's woes, are easily traceable over the past two months.

Friday 19 November - Tony Blair's popularity looked unassailable as it emerges that his wife, Cherie, is to have a baby.

Saturday 20 November - Lord Archer was forced to step down as the party's mayoral candidate. It emerged in late November that he had concocted a false alibi around the time of his 1987 libel case against the Daily Star after the paper alleged that he had slept with prostitute Monica Coghlan (pictured above). Embarrassed and betrayed, Mr Hague said he had to go.

Tuesday 23 November - Michael Ashcroft, the Conservative Party Treasurer, became the focus of controversy amid allegations that the pounds 666,500 of donations made through his Belize Bank Trust Company constituted foreign donations.

Wednesday 24 November - Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed and Tory former minister Neil Hamilton were battling it out in the High Court, reviving the spectre of the damaging "cash-for-questions" row.

Thursday 25 November - Michael Portillo's victory in the Kensington and Chelsea by-election renewed speculation that he would challenge Hague for the party leadership.

Friday 3 December - Mr Hague was forced to sack Shaun Woodward after he refused to support the shadow cabinet's policy against the abolition of the Section 28 legislation, which prevents local councils from "promoting" homosexuality.

Saturday 11 December - Steve Norris, the former transport minister, was dumped as a mayoral candidate by a Conservative selection panel, only to be reinstated later.

Wednesday 15 November - Mr Hague is rebuked by a House of Commons Committee for failing to declare sessions in Lord Archer's gym.

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