Unrepentant Norris romps and tells
The ex-minister delivers his embarrassing goods on the eve of the Tory conference. By John Rentoul
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Tuesday 24 September 1996
It seems that, as so often in his life, the former transport minister had the best of intentions. The first draft of his book was so tame the publishers, who paid more than pounds 150,000, asked him to "spice it up".
Now the publishers - and the Daily Mail, which began serialisation yesterday - have got what they want.
But no one else is happy. More than one mistress feels bitter and betrayed by his decision to go into print about his relationships. Today the Mail launches its main salvo: "The truth about me and my five mistresses".
His party is also angry about his disloyalty. A minister in the Government until only two months ago, Mr Norris launched a vitriolic attack on Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, in yesterday's instalment.
He accused Mr Heseltine of failing to reward his supporters, and said: "The real reason Emma Nicholson defected was that, after years of dogged devotion, Heseltine could hardly remember her name."
But the real story that is revealed is one of a boisterous Thatcherite brought down to earth by the reality of less exciting times. Mr Norris was the embodiment of the Thatcher boom years. A Labour student who was a Tory convert, he became a millionaire through his ownership of a VW- Audi dealership and described himself, ironically, as a "second-hand car dealer".
He was married to the daughter of a rear-admiral and sent his son to Eton. He was irreverent, larger than life and a populist right-winger.
When he was translated from Oxford to Epping Forest after a year out of the Commons, he became the emblematic Essex Man.
But he was never really like that. He was a social liberal who supported reducing the age of consent for homosexuals to 16. And he was a Thatcherite who lost faith in Baroness Thatcher over the poll tax.
In yesterday's instalment, he claimed to have admired her and her "brilliant" Euro-sceptical Bruges speech, but said she lost touch with the Tory party and the people through no fault of her own.
This was not what he said at the time, which was that "the only way to be sure was to nail her in a coffin with a stake through her heart".
And then there was the sex. The evasions of politics seem to have been replicated in his private life.
Asked by Lady Thatcher's campaign manager, Peter Morrison, "I trust we can count on you?", Mr Norris says he replied: "Absolutely no problem." He describes this as a "suitably Delphic response", which added to the Thatcher team's miscalculation.
He was still at it earlier this summer, when at a meeting two rail enthusiasts gave him a video of their plans to improve public transport in their area. He listened attentively and promised to watch it, but they watched in horror and fury as he walked out of the meeting and put it in a dustbin.
In his not-so-private life, one of his mistresses yesterday said that he had broken an understanding that neither of them would say anything in public about their relationship.
This is a direct reversal of Mr Norris's accusation against another former minister, Edwina Currie, whom he accused of having betrayed him, with her revelation to the Today newspaper: "Minister tried to seduce me."
This actually referred to an incident when they were both at school in Liverpool. He said: "She may, I suppose, have imagined a brief fumble under her blouse behind the school hall to be an orgasmic experience, but I fear I was less impressed."
And he said that, when they met in the Members' Lobby on both being elected to the Commons in 1983, she had said: "I won't say anything if you don't." But he accused her of breaking her word by going public at precisely the time in 1993 when the tabloids published revelations about his overlapping mistresses.
At the weekend, his ex-lover Lynn Taylor launched her pre-emptive strike in the Mail's sister paper, the Mail on Sunday. "He was reading from the script of married men. His wife, Vicky, didn't understand him, they led separate lives, blah, blah. I knew his wife had just had a baby so I didn't believe a word of it," she said.
But Mr Norris sent her flowers and presents. "He was very romantic, and so, so charming. He made me laugh - he is a very funny man and in this part of the world [Wiltshire] there are not many decent, intelligent and amusing men. There I was - 39 and divorced. I thought, `Terrific, life does begin at 40'."
In stark contrast to his version of the story, in which she is portrayed as a lonely woman who pestered him to marry her, she said he promised to marry her. "Steve went down on one knee to propose and gave me a ring, the whole bit."
Others have preferred a dignified silence in response to Mr Norris's first literary effort. Mrs Currie had no comment yesterday and Mr Heseltine's office did not return our call.
For those hoping the book would provide salacious insights into recent political events, as the much-hyped comparison with Alan Clark's diaries suggested, yesterday's instalment was a disappointment.
Mr Norris recycled a Spitting Image sketch as a true story, recounting the time when Lady Thatcher was "dining with her Cabinet colleagues and being asked what dish she had chosen. `I'll have the steak,' she promptly dictated. `And what about the vegetables?' `Oh, they'll have steak too.'"
But he warned John Major: "As long as there is breath in Michael Heseltine's body, he would lead the party if the opportunity arose."
In his own words - the life and times of Steven Norris - in
"The reputation I have as a philanderer is quite erroneous. I am not angry about it but it's a million miles from the reality." This week.
On the morning of 1995 Tory leadership election he predicted that John Major would have to resign if 100 MPs failed to vote for him. 111 failed to do so, but Mr Major stayed
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