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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 22:23 GMT 23:23 UK
Portillo kicks off leadership battle
Michael Portillo making his declaration on Wednesday
Portillo has ended days of speculation
Michael Portillo has entered the race for the Conservative leadership with the warning that the party must change or suffer even worse electoral defeats in the future.

The former defence secretary, one of the most colourful figures in UK politics, said the party needed to "re-engage" with ordinary people if it hoped to be elected again.

Addressing journalists in Westminster on Wednesday morning, Mr Portillo became the first person to declare his candidacy in the contest to succeed William Hague.

Contest timetable
27 June - election of new chairman/executive of the 1922 Committee, which runs the contest
28 June or 5 July - possible close of leadership nominations
3 or 10 July - first ballot of MPs
5 or 12 July - second ballot of MPs
10 or 17 July - possible final ballot of MPs
Mid-late July - ballot papers sent to grass roots members
Early August - winner declared
He said: "I believe that unless the party makes major changes in its style and the issues there is a danger that we will actually go further down in public respect."

Mr Portillo claimed the backing of nearly two thirds of the shadow cabinet - but his candidacy was not welcomed in all quarters.

Possible rival, shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe, said she "could not" serve in a Portillo cabinet.

She also said that she might not stand if former chancellor Kenneth Clarke joined the race.

Miss Widdecombe - along with Mr Clarke, Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis - are still considering whether to challenge Mr Portillo.

Broad appeal

With shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude by his side, Mr Portillo said: "Our party has suffered two catastrophic results and the responsibility for those results is shared by all of us who have been at the top of the party."

Mr Portillo said the Tories needed an "understanding" tone which reflected people's concerns.

"We need to broaden the appeal of our party," he continued in echoes of the "inclusive" message which dominated his party conference speech last year.

Ann Widdecombe on Wednesday
Widdecombe hints she might step aside for Clarke
"Our party has to appeal to the whole range of people who live in Britain."

Arguing that the British people were "fed up with yah-boo politics", Mr Portillo said he would want always to be "thoughtful and moderate".

While he reaffirmed his opposition to the euro, Mr Portillo said he would adopt a more "internationalist" tone which would carry more weight abroad and make pro-European Tories more comfortable.

Mr Maude, who is the shadow chancellor's campaign manager, said 12 of the 18 shadow cabinet ministers free to express a preference were committed to Mr Portillo's campaign.

"There is a hunger in the Conservative Party today to combine together," he told journalists outside Portcullis House, the new block of MPs offices at Westminster.

Portillo's shadow cabinet backers
Francis Maude
Peter Ainsworth
Edward Garnier
David Heathcoat-Amory
Oliver Letwin
Andrew Mackay
Tim Yeo
Gary Streeter
Archie Norman
David Willetts
Theresa May
Miss Widdecombe says she is being urged to stand by grass roots supporters but she needed to gauge her support among her fellow MPs.

If Miss Widdecombe or others from the Tory right stand against Mr Portillo, the contest is set to become a showdown between the "authoritarian" and "libertarian" wings of the party.

Conservative MP Julian Brazier gave a flavour of that battle when he said he was concerned Mr Portillo wanted to go "beyond tolerance".

"In his speeches outside parliament he has suggested we should treat all lifestyles the same, even where the rearing of children is concerned," said Mr Brazier.

"I think the Conservative Party should be committed to marriage."

Lines open

Mr Portillo is the bookies' favourite to win the leadership - William Hill is offering odds of 2/7.

And bookmakers Ladbrokes cut the odds on the Conservatives winning the next general election from 2/1 to 7/4 in the wake of his declaration.

Although he is drawing support from MPs on the centre and left, some former allies on the Tory right have been critical of his attempts to broaden his appeal.

Supporters of the former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke say the lines of communication between him and Mr Portillo remain open.

They point out that Mr Clarke does not have to declare his hand until nominations close in a fortnight's time.

Party rules mean Tory MPs select two candidates to go forward to a vote of all party members.

The BBC's political editor Andrew Marr
"Hes got the support of most of the shadow cabinet"
Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo
"Develop policies for Britain as well as Europe"
Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe
"It is crucial to be able to trust not just the leader but the people around him"

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See also:

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