THE Conservatives were rocked yesterday after the party was forced to suspend one of its Scottish candidates after he described homosexuality as "not normal" and called for a public ban on promoting gay relationships to be re-imposed.
• Philip Lardner, left, with Tory deputy Scottish leader Murdo Fraser.
Philip Lardner, the Conservative candidate in North Ayrshire and Arran, used a blog entry to declare that most of the population believed homosexuality "to be somewhere between unfortunate and simply wrong".
He added that the promotion of homosexuality in schools had been "correctly outlawed by Mrs Thatcher's government", and added that "in the interests of freedom", Christian groups should be allowed to discriminate against gay men and women.
Mr Lardner was suspended by party chiefs within minutes of the blog entry being publicised.
But last night, it emerged the party was too late to remove him as their candidate, as the registration deadline has passed. In a statement, the party said they were "no longer supporting his candidacy".
The affair is a major embarrassment for party leader David Cameron, coming just a few weeks after his front-bench colleague Chris Grayling was forced to apologise after declaring that B&B owners should be allowed to prevent gay couples from staying in their homes.
While Mr Lardner was not expected to win the North Ayrshire and Arran seat for the Tories, senior party sources had recently talked up the party's chances there after finishing second in 2005.
It has also placed question marks over the party's vetting procedures for candidates which, following the furore over MPs' expenses, have come under additional scrutiny.
In addition, the Conservatives had boasted of being the only party to field candidates in every UK constituency, something which no longer holds.
In his blog, Mr Lardner, a primary school teacher, declared: "With experience as a teacher and as a believer in parental rights and responsibilities, as your MP I will support the rights of parents and teachers to refuse to have their children taught that homosexuality is 'normal' behaviour or an equal lifestyle choice to traditional marriage."
He went on: "I will always support the rights of homosexuals to be treated within concepts of (common sense] equality and respect, and defend their rights to choose to live the way they want in private, but I will not accept their behaviour is 'normal' or encourage children to indulge in it.
"The promotion of homosexuality by public bodies (as per 'clause 28'/section 2a in Scotland) was correctly outlawed by Mrs Thatcher's government. Toleration and understanding is one thing, but state promotion of homosexuality is quite another."
He went on to attack equality legislation which, he claimed, forces Christians to "employ homosexuals as 'ministers' against all that the Bible teaches".
"Christians (and most of the population) believe homosexuality to be somewhere between 'unfortunate' and simply 'wrong' and they should not be penalised for politely saying so."
Scottish party chairman Andrew Fulton said: "The views expressed by Philip Lardner… are deeply offensive and unacceptable and as a result he has been suspended as a member of the Conservative Party. We therefore do not support Mr Lardner's candidacy. These views have no place in the modern Conservative Party. "
However, a spokeswoman for the returning officer in the seat confirmed that Mr Lardner would still remain a candidate next week. Ballot papers have already been printed, so Mr Lardner will appear as the party's candidate.
Asked about the row last night, Mr Cameron said: "I think people will see we acted immediately, within minutes of finding out. No party has moved as much as we have on this issue. We have apologised about Section 28, we support civil partnerships and we are thoroughly inclusive."
But opponents hit out at the Tories, pointing out that they had passed up the chance to ditch Mr Lardner following a previous row over his blog.
In 2008, he was suspended as a candidate after he praised Rhodesian leader Iain Smith as a "British hero who came from the Empire and fought for his country". He also said that Enoch Powell's predictions about immigration – made famous by his "rivers of blood" speech – had "in a small way come true".
Mr Lardner was suspended after making the comments but was then reinstated with "the full support of both the party and the local Conservative and Unionist Party Association".
Katy Clark, Labour's candidate in North Ayrshire and Arran, said: "I am speechless to read these comments. They are completely unacceptable and show how the Tory Party hasn't changed.
"But Scottish Tories knew of this man's views two years ago when his candidature was reviewed by the party."