TORY chiefs sought to distance themselves from millionaire defector Ivan Massow last night, claiming his links to the party were never ''desperately close.''

Once touted as a possible London Mayoral candidate for the Conservative Party, Mr Massow, yesterday blamed his defection on the Tories ''nasty'' attitude to homosexuals and asylum seekers.

The openly gay businessman said he had given up hope that Tory Leader William Hague would move towards Compassionate Conservatism despite his recent support for Republican presidential contender George W Bush.

''The sad truth is that under William Hague, the Tories have become less compassionate, more intolerant and, frankly, just plain nasty,'' Mr Massow said. ''I just don't believe this (Tory) party is capable of governing one of the most diverse and interesting countries in the world, and if they are elected I don't want anything to do with it.''

Conservative Party vice-chairman Steve Norris, who worked with Mr Massow in the London Mayoral campaign, hit back claiming the 32-year-old's love of fox-hunting would make him unpopular with Labour.

''Here is a chap who also is a Master of fox-hounds - I wonder how that is going to play with some of his new friends in the Labour Party,'' he said. ''We welcome members to the party every day and we lose them every day. This idea that Ivan is a desperately close adviser isn't something I personally recognise.''

However, Mr Massow's high-profile departure will come as a blow to Mr Hague at a time when he appeared to be gaining ground with popularist policies on crime, asylum and Europe.

Mr Massow's criticisms strike a familiar chord with other Tory dissidents, coming less than two months after Scottish Tory hopeful Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh quit to join the Scottish National Party.

The 29-year-old mother of two, who was also a qualified solicitor and a soap-opera star in Pakistan, was once presented as the new face of Scottish Conservatism but left after accusing the Tory Party of being racist and irrelevant to Scotland's future.

Last night, Scottish Secretary John Reid said Mr Massow's defection would be a ''devastating blow for William Hague.''

''Here you have a close acquaintance, an adviser, until yesterday a Conservative candidate who says Mr Hague is incompetent on the economy, intolerant on social policy and pandering to prejudice, incapable of real leadership and untrustworthy on all three,'' he said. ''I don't think criticism comes more direct and damaging than that.''

Mr Massow was particularly upset by the Conservative Party's stance in favour of retaining Section 28, the law banning local councils from ''promoting'' homosexuality. The Prime Minister called the legislation a piece of prejudice and vowed to repeal it but a recent attempt was defeated in the House of Lords.

Mr Massow was also scathing of a Tory policy to detain all asylum seekers while their applications are considered. ''On both asylum and Section 28 the Tories ignore the facts and pander to hatred,'' Mr Massow said.

A Conservative since the age of 14, Mr Massow said he should have joined Labour when Tony Blair became leader in 1994, claiming the Government had managed the economy far better than he had expected.

To show his support for New Labour Mr Massow yesterday attended a photocall in London with Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam, who later said she had ''wondered why he wasn't with us in the first place.''