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Steve Norris, Tory mayoral candidate for London, was keen to show both his business credentials and irresistable charisma at MIPIM in Cannes last week

Meeting politicians is strange. What fails to come through the TV screens is their immense energy and charisma, without which they wouldn't even reach a lowly ministerial position.

MIPIM - last week's annual, absurdly commercial, property bash in Cannes - is increasingly one of the prime habitats for witnessing political animals at work, away from the stuffy atmospheres of Westminster and Whitehall. Among the big names present was old 'Two Jags' himself, John Prescott, escorted by construction minister, and Gordon Brown clone, Nigel Griffiths.

So it was no surprise to see Steve Norris, the Conservative Party's candidate for London mayor, prowling the exhibition space and pressing the flesh - especially as planning, development and architecture are set to be key battlegrounds in next year's election, and Norris is the non-executive chair of construction giant Jarvis. 'Shagger' (as he is almost universally known due to his not-soprivate private life) was thus in his element.

This impression was strengthened when the former minister for London Transport conspired to be over an hour late for our interview. The all-too-believable excuse was that he had been delayed by a lengthy lunch with property gurus CB Richard Ellis. The image of Norris whiling away the hours with a large cigar, a glass of local armagnac and the company of large developers was irresistible.

When the big man finally made an appearance, it became quickly apparent why he made such a surprisingly large impression in the inaugural 2000 mayoral elections.

Joining the campaign late after Jeffrey Archer's public humiliation, Norris steadily made up ground on Red Ken's bubbling campaign. Tory strategists claimed, fairly convincingly, that if the election had taken place two weeks later, the blue flag, instead of red, would have been raised over Foster and Partners' brand-spanking-new City Hall.

Standing around on the Cannes promenade, he looked exactly like what he is:

a northern working-class lad who made it big - very big - in the heady atmosphere of 1980s London. The immaculate suit, the perma-tan skin complexion and the slightly garish gold jewelry all gave the impression of someone more likely to get on with the cockney entrepreneurs of Only Fools and Horses than either Livingstone or the Liberal's Simon Hughes.

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