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banner Friday, 5 October, 2001, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Norman's hopes for Tory change
By BBC News Online's Ben Davies

Archie Norman is not a man used to taking a back seat so it is hardly surprising that, with no role to play on the Conservative front bench, he is poised to launch a new think-tank aimed at contributing to a Tory revival.

Along with the likes of other key Portillo-backers, including Francis Maude, Tim Yeo and David Willetts, Mr Norman hopes to make sure reform and inclusivity stay on the Conservative agenda.

Under William Hague, Mr Norman was assigned a series of top roles - but it has long been rumoured that differences developed between the two men in the last couple of years before the Tories' second successive crushing electoral defeat.

I felt it was my duty as a member of the top team to support him and go along with it. Perhaps I shouldn't have done

Archie Norman on William Hague
He blames the differences on the direction that Mr Hague took after an initially promising start that suggested that the Conservatives were adopting a more inclusive approach.

"When William was elected he carried with him the reforming hopes of the party.

"People felt that here was a new, fresh, inclusive type of a party.

"People thought that the future he talked of would be one that was in touch with contemporary society, which was more appealing to younger people and to people from differing ethnic backgrounds."

Battered by press

That future was one Mr Norman believes Mr Portillo was offering when he ran unsuccessfully to replace Mr Hague.

It's become an intimidating dogma in the Conservative Party - it's a barrier to fresh thinking

Archie Norman on Thatcherism
He attributes the change of direction while Mr Hague was leader in part to the "terrible battering" the party took in the press and "some of the early mistakes" in public relations such as the legendary baseball cap.

Mr Norman insists that there is no "personal distance" between him and Hague whom he says he "likes very much and admires".

However, he concedes there was "no secret" regarding the fact that he was not in favour of the policy direction or the election strategy adopted.

"I felt it was my duty as a member of the top team to support him and go along with it.

"Perhaps I shouldn't have done. I don't know."

Sterile thinking

Mr Norman also talks of the "sterility" of centre-right thinking - something that his think-tank will no doubt focus on - and says that Mr Hague missed an opportunity to have a "huge policy revision".

"That was a great lost opportunity and meant that instead of a new wave of thinking we just travelled on the received wisdom of Thatcherism.

"What is interesting is if you look and listen to what the post-Thatcherites say, it's a distilled version of Thatcherism it's not even a genuine reflection of what she did or believed while in office - but it's become a pastiche Thatcherism.

"It's become an intimidating dogma in the Conservative Party - it's a barrier to fresh thinking.

"It means that particularly in the public services... there's a sort of Thatcherite disdain for public service and the belief that the only solution is out-and-out privatisation - which it quite transparently isn't."


So how does he feel that the candidate of the Thatcherite right now runs the party?

"I think the opportunity that Iain Duncan Smith has, which wouldn't have been available to Ken Clarke, is that he does command the absolute support and affection of what is known as the right wing of the party... of a group of people who otherwise in the past have been extremely difficult and have been suspicious of change," he says.

Mr Duncan Smith therefore has the opportunity to act as "a reforming leader coming from the right and bringing those people with him".

"That is his opportunity and I very much hope he takes it and I believe he will."

Sitting aloft in a rather splendid office suite overlooking the Thames, Mr Norman has also had plenty of time to ponder where he wants to go next.

"I like Iain and I'd like to think he will feel able to use me in any way I can be useful but for the time being I don't want to be in frontline politics, I want to think about other things and what I want to do with my time. "

No freehold

"I'm 47, and I make no bones about it I came into politics, like many other people, in the high hope of being in government - we're not and I'm determined to use my time usefully.

"It's equally true that if, for whatever reason, what I can contribute and my talents are not required, and for whatever reason, I'm not effective, then there are plenty other things I want to do," he said.

"The House of Commons doesn't have a freehold over Archie Norman. They have a leasehold," he said.

See also:

06 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Move on from Thatcher - top Tory
08 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Maude refuses to endorse candidates
22 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Duncan Smith claims 'underdog' role
09 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Portillo backer considers think tank
20 Jul 98 | UK Politics
Internal Tory reform criticised
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