Norris in rethink as Tories hold new poll

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Indy Politics

Steven Norris said he was reconsidering his position last night after the Tory Party decided to opt for a complete re-run of its selection contest for the mayor of London.

Steven Norris said he was reconsidering his position last night after the Tory Party decided to opt for a complete re-run of its selection contest for the mayor of London.

A clearly disappointed Mr Norris said he was not certain to rejoin the race. But he has retained his campaign team despite losing to Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare in the original ballot last month, confident that the Tory peer's candidacy was likely to run into problems.

Ceri Evans, Mark Fulbrook, Alex Challoner and Barney Towns make up some of the finest young Conservative brains. The team was led by Mr Evans, a former Central Office media specialist who softened Mr Hague's image and dreamed up the "Gold Blend" style party broadcasts. He was backed up by Mr Fulbrook, a former adviser to Norman Lamont who infuriated the US Democrats when he supplied information to Republicans on President Clinton's activities in the UK in the 1960s. Mr Challoner, a PR professional, and Mr Towns, who was Mr Hague's specialist adviser until he became leader in 1997, complete the line-up.

Mr Norris will spend a day or two deciding whether he wants to put himself through another selection contest. The former transport minister had assumed that as runner-up he could either become the automatic choice to replace Lord Archer or would face only a speedy ballot against the original list of candidates, none of whom was a threat to him.

Andrew Boss, former leader of Hillingdon Council, and Bob Blackman, former Brent Council leader, both impressed London officials but were considered to have insufficient experience at national level.

However, Michael Ancram, the party chairman, made clear last night that Mr Hague wanted a completely new ballot of members, fuelling speculation that he had alternative big names lined up for the post. Archie Norman, former Asda boss and chief executive of the Tory party, was toted as one possible contender.

The Norris camp is said to be furious that the Tories will not now have their candidate in place until mid-January. "It seems as if, even after the Archer fiasco, the party still has a death wish," one source said.

The former MP, one of Westminster's most accomplished smoothies, achieved notoriety for working his way through not one but five mistresses during his ministerial career.

Brought up in a back-street terrace in Liverpool, he made a million then lost a million as a car dealer and has shown an Archer-like ability to bounce back from failure.

Defeated as MP for Oxford East in 1987 by Andrew Smith, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he returned to Parliament as MP for Epping Forest in 1988 and rose to transport minister for London under John Major's administration.

In his autobiography, Changing Trains (renamed "Changing Dames" by some critics), Mr Norris admits that he was one of the few MPs who persuaded Michael Heseltine to challenge Margaret Thatcher before her downfall in 1990.

Alongside his pro-European views, that role has not endeared him to many on the right of the party. When he ran against Lord Archer, he believed his experience would win out. Unfortunately, Mr Norris lost a significant amount of support when he was inadvertently caught on tape stating that he would not back Lord Archer "dead or alive".

Mr Norris, who left Parliament in 1997, was director general of the Road Haulage Association for two years until this summer, when he stood down to campaign full time for the Tory nomination. He is currently without a job.

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