"THROW AWAY" remarks by Steve Norris that he would not support Lord Archer "dead or alive" last night turned the Tory contest to become Mayor of London into a bitter personal rivalry.
Mr Norris played down the remarks as "off the cuff", but they highlighted what is becoming an increasingly keen battle between the former Transport minister and the best-selling author.
The Norris campaign team had denied that he would use such remarks, but after the tape recording was broadcast, a red-faced Mr Norris said he made "throw away comments in a light-hearted conversation". At the hustings meetings with Lord Archer and two other rivals, he attempted to beat Lord Archer by focusing on three `quality of life' policy pledges for the capital.
Along with the two other hopefuls, Andrew Boff, former leader of Hillingdon council, Bob Blackman, leader of the Tories on Brent council, they addressed about 1,300 London party members last night.
Tougher policing in London with the introduction of New York-style `precinct captains' was promised by Mr Norris. Each borough would have its own chief constable, who would be expected to deliver regular reports on crime records. There would be an end to "politically correct" policing under the Metropolitan Police, he said. Mr Norris promised a crackdown on sleeping rough on the streets of London, proposing that the existing by-laws would be enforced strictly by the police to take the homeless off the streets and into hostel accommodation.
He also promised to improve London Underground by privatising the passenger services on the Tube and said the Government's plan for privatising the structure while keeping passenger services in public control was the worst of all worlds. Mr Norris said quite clearly he would work very hard for the party and would be supporting the other candidates if he failed to gain the nomination."
The outspoken comments about Lord Archer were made during a conversation that Mr Norris had with former Tory MP Richard Tracey at a Conservative Party function three weeks ago. Mr Norris told him: "I tell you something. I will never, ever support Archer, alive or dead." But he did not realise that he was wearing a BBC Radio microphone at the time which picked up the conversation. He told Greater London Radio that he did not remember making the remarks, but in an embarrassing climbdown the former Tory minister later accepted he had - but he dismissed their seriousness. A spokesman for Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare declined to comment on the remarks.
The Tory peer recently caused controversy with comments about the dress sense of Afro-Caribbean women, but after his endorsement by Baroness Thatcher his candidacy recovered. In a final pitch for support, Lord Archer said his message was: "If you are only going to have a saint for this job, I'm certainly not your man. But if you want somebody with energy and ideas I'd like to take that challenge."
Mr Norris has also been confident of his chances after his last-minute decision to marry his mistress and mother of his 18-month-old son.
He said he would put fighting crime at the top of his agenda, following New York's example of zero-tolerance policing with forces being put under pressure to deliver results in terms of clear-up rates.
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