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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Your views: Portillo as a single mum
Michael Portillo
Portillo had four children to look after
MP Michael Portillo swapped his wealthy lifestyle to live for a week as a single mother of four in Merseyside for a TV experiment.

In When Michael Portillo Became a Single Mum, he had to balance the household budget of 80 as well as take on Jenny Miner's two jobs as a classroom assistant and supermarket cashier.

How did Mr Portillo cope with the challenge? Did the show work as a social experiment and could it open the eyes of those in power to the difficulties of being a single parent? Send us your views.

This debate has now closed. A selection of your views is below.

I thought Michael was great. When one remembers his past political views, I think Portillo has undergone a massive transformation as a man and as a politician. It's a shame that he isn't the Leader of the conservative party.
Chikere Ezeh, UK

I thought Michael Portillo did a very hard job with a very good heart. He was very self effacing with the things he wasn't able to handle and in no way tried to make himself out to be a hero. I also think he showed great respect for Jenny Miner's position and also great respect for her kids. WELL DONE MICHAEL.
Rachel Molina, London, England

It's only a shame that he is a conservative. I find it extremely hard not to like the man as he came across very well. Interesting timing though, with this program coming out with IDS's current problems and his one-off pilgramage to his home country of Spain being aired at the time of IDS's election to Leader.

A pity that the programme was a one-off!
Phil, Thame, Oxon

I thought it was an excellent programme and I think he did very well indeed.

Having been thrust into an unknown child-care scenario in the past as part of a personal development programme myself, I know how scary it must have seemed.

I only wish more of our MPs would take up the challenge and take the trouble to understand more about the real life of those they purport to lead.
Philip Devin, UK

I have always disliked Michael Portillo so was tuning in last night to see some cringe TV. But at the end of the programme I actually found myself warming to him. I know he's a politician so would not do anything to incriminate himself, but he came across as a natural, warm human being who did not alienate or talk down to people. He was also very good with children. I was surprised to say the very least.
Sue, UK

I though he was quite sweet actually. A lot of people are understandably cynical about publicity, but hey, he gave it a go and seemed genuinely happy during the party.
Carrie, UK

I think the week being a single mum did Mr Portillo good. He learnt how the other half have to suvive, he coped very well. The problem is he will not realise that after a few weeks it can get you depressed and tired. Perhaps he should have stayed longer!! Not sure how the children would have coped, perhaps it is not such a good idea after all.
MH, Berks

This project placed Portillo in a very vulnerable position, let's face it, he would be criticised whichever way he jumped.

It would have been very easy for him to refuse this project but credit to him - he had a go and I thought he did very well all things considered.

Well done for giving it a go and well done to the Miner family who invited him in to their home and lives.
Tracy, UK

I thought he did really well, considering he was totally outside his realm of experience.

I used to despise Portillo, when he was a government minister, and I remember cheering when he lost his seat in 1997. However in recent years, I've warmed to him considerably, watching his appearances on This Week, and now taking part in this experiment, with considerable humility and an open mind.
Ben Neale, UK

I thought the programme was really good, prior to the programme I saw Portillo as a jumped up prat, now I have much more respect for him, I could not see Ian Duncan Smith doing the same, pehaps Portillo is now the man for that job.
Graham Wood, UK

I must admit I was very impressed with the way Michael coped with the challenge of caring for 4 young children, without any first hand experience of his own! He was very fair and straight forward with the children at home and in his part time teaching assistant job. I really have changed my opinion of him after watching the programme, after giving his views on Jenny's life and jobs, and considering he is a tory I must admit he has a pretty good sense of humour and quite in touch with real life.
Missy, UK

I thought Michael Portillo coped well particularly as he had no or little experience of running a home or coping with children.

A week is not long enough to really experience the true difficulties of coping on a low wage or as a single parent. It's when items need replacing or fixed, the cost of clothing etc.

But fair dos to him for volunteering in the first place, it could have gone very pear-shaped and he came across a quite a nice person, sincere and certainly didn't look down his nose at his surroundings. Well done to him.
Julie Field, England

What was the point of this silly production?? To show that Mr. Portillo is a nice chap? To emphasise the growing gap between the haves and the have nots in this society? Thousands of single mothers have to struggle like this everyday, but they don't end up with their own TV programme!
Andrew Davis, UK

I thought Michael was brilliant considering what a completely different life he is used to leading. He tried his hardest and I'm sure the experience will have opened his eyes to how the other half lives. However, I thought Jenny's criticism of his comments at the end of the show were slightly unfair - he ws only giving his opinion.
Shelley Potter, UK

I think that Michael Portillo came across as a suprisingly pleasant man who tried his best with four (absolute tearaway) children. I thought that Jenny was totally negative towards him as they had their final chat, he had tried really hard and remained calm and composed throughout the children's misbehaviour.
Karen, England

While we were not initially Portillo supporters - either politically or personally - we found ourselves warming to him as he came to grips with being both a single parent and having to manage a family on a limited budget. Let us hope that he takes some valuable lessons back to his party and to MPs in general. Welcome to the real world Michael! P.S. The Miner kids were great!
Mark Le Surf-Hall, England

The Michael Portillo programme was a blatent publicity stunt which not only patronised the single mum (1 week is not testing enough - try a year Michael), but also showed how a potential leader of a major party (and possibly prime minister) was comprehensively manipulated by an 11 year old girl.
Chettan Karsan, England

I thought that Michael did superbly. Despite the fact that he does not have kids of his own, I thought that he showed parenting skills that are better than a lot of people who do have children.

The main difficulty for Michael, though, was that they are not his kids and therefore the disciplining side was always going to be a problem. Also, the kids have a history with their mother - they know what will be going too far. With Michael, they were constanyly trying to find the boundaries which probably meant that they went further than they normally do.
Lance Strangely, UK

I am a huge fan of Portillo but I wondered at the motivation for this show. I don't know if it highlights the difficulties of being a single mother because clearly he wasn't related to these children - and that makes all the difference. Being a single mum is a 24/7 job and this was a week of moonlighting.
Marie-Louise Hogan, UK

Clearly a stunt to endear himself to voters outside the bounds of traditional conservative support. Three of the children were not taken in by him and neither should the British public.
Mike, UK

I think he did extremely well. Having watched the whole show I think the mother was very hard on Mr Portillo. With no previous experience and somewhat hyperactive children, he coped marvellously. It obviously brought the problems with coping on a budget to light but then most of us have to do this irrespective of the amount we have to do it with. Not everyone has 4 children admittedly but then isn't that someone's individual choice? An excellent programme and a big hand for Mr Portillo for coping so well.
Sian Phillips, England

I thought Michael Portillo did a fantastic job of coping with a (for him)totally alien way of life. I'd be interested to know if the programme editors influenced our opinion - it seemed Mr Portillo "picked on" one of the children, but is this a reflection of the balance of his behaviour off-screen? I thought it was great that he did it, and the green shopworker's hat was priceless - as was the "Mike, happy to help" badge. If only he'd rounded it off with a pat on his loose change!
Bruce, UK

I have mortgage and work full time. After all my bills are paid I have 55 per week. Why did the show make out that single mothers struggle? It's alot of other people as well. The single mum had a computer so she cant be that poor.
Lisa Stubberfield, UK

I thought it was sensational and ought to be mandatory for any politician tasked with policy formation. It raised two questions for me (and all the conspiracy theorists out there): Whose idea was it and why? Why did it appear this week of all weeks?
Hamish, UK

In principal it was a very good idea, however he was apparently paid 15,000 to carry out the "challenge". It would have impressed me more to hear that he had given the money to the family. What did he really learn from his experience??
Louise, England

Interesting programme - but I had hoped Michael Portillo would comment on the very low wages Jenny earns for both her demanding jobs. This woman does 2 jobs and yet is still reliant on benefits - something isn't right, despite the Minimum wage legislation.
Cara, London, UK

I thought he came across quite sympathetically, doing fairly well with the kids, seemingly enjoying the 2 jobs, and successfully running the household. However, the main element he failed to grasp was the relentless nature of living on such a tight budget: he could walk away after a week and return to his normal life of expensive meals and exotic holidays, which isn't an option for Jenny and her family.
Amanda, UK

The programme did not devote enough time to analysing the experiences of both Michael Portillo and Jenny Miner. The clash of cultures at times seemed insurmountable and this was reflected in Michael's paltry conclusions and Jenny's aggressive response to Michael's inevitable mistakes. The programme makers should have devoted much more energy to structuring a proper breakdown and discussion of both their experiences, so that a level of mutual understanding (and learning) could have been achieved.
Victoria, UK

I believe that for a man of 50 with no children, Michael Portillo really did very well in the house for a week, managing the budget and work with very few complaints. By his own admission, it was an eye opener that will hopefully make him more compassionate in future. I believe that this should be made compulsory for all MPs who are out of touch with real life and real issues.
Edwin Thomas, England

Even if you don't agree with his politics, at least the guy was genuine, a word that doesn't exist in New Labour's vocabulary.
Julia, UK

For me, a week wasn't long enough. A month would have been a more interesting and relevant experiment; Portillo would have had to try a little harder with the three kids he didn't bond with , rather than just toughing it all out.

I'm not a great fan of his, but I have to say that Mr Portillo came over quite well; he was personable and genuinely appeared to give the two part time jobs a go. In the end I was left wondering if Mr Portillo were leader of the Tories, Mr Blair might be less confident of winning the next election.
Andy Rooney, Scotland

Michael Portillo came across in this programme as resourceful, intelligent, thoughtful, patient, kind and open-minded. He handled the situation very well and with great good humour. I'm not a Tory but this programme has changed my opinion of this man - I hope he goes for the leadership and gives Blair a run for his money.
Linda West, England

Good on Mr Portillo, I think he did a really good job. I am, at present carrying out an investigation into societies views on Lone parents as a college project and this programme really aided me with this. As a single parent myself I believe we should have more of politicians carrying out these types of expermints then maybe we can open the eyes of our goverment to show the difficulties we face.
Diane Mcgraw, Scotland

I thoroughly enjoyed the programme but fail to see why all sympathy goes out to the single mother of four trying to manage on her income plus benefits. After all, it was her choice to have the four children. She should have thought whether she could afford them first. I noticed that she still had a computer. Let's stop feeling sorry for all of these people that have children and rely on benefits to keep them.

I chose to have only two because that's all we could afford and then went back to work full time. It's true that Michael only had to endure it for one week but then it wasn't his choice in the first place to have four children. That was hers so she must live with it a little longer.
Liz, Durham

If Michael Portillo goes back to Westminster and stands up to tell his colleagues on both sides of the fence about his experiences, and the people that have to try to survive on the minimum wage (which his party opposed, presumably thinking that people should work for even less), then this programme will have been worth it. It's a shame more politicians don't get to know the faces and experiences behind the statistics.
Justin, UK

Mr Portillo did amazingly well considering he has no children. For me the stark message is that the professional politicians seem to be out of touch with the way the majority of us live our lives. The ideas of budgets at home etc seems to be an alien concept. With this in mind does this then mean that they (professional politicians) should not be placed in positions of power without insight and understanding and experience of real life?
Ed, UK

Why is this only done for a week? To get the full impact of how people live, it should be a month or more. What will happen now? Is he going to make changes or just forget the experience and go back to his cushioned life?
Eileen Nolan, England

Wife swap Westminster style. Portillo struggled as a parent especially with the younger children, though perhaps this is unsurprising with someone with no childcare experience. His rather stern manner belied his attempt do the right thing and he seemed crestfallen when Jenny pointed out his shortcomings. He has demonstrated he has very human qualities- I wonder if the Conservative party fully understand what they have lost by not choosing him as their leader.
Bobby, London, UK

I thought he did very well considering he did not have kids himself and did not cook at home very often. Don't think I could of done it and too keep his cool when the children were playing up - brill. Pat yourself on the back Michael!
Julie, Manchester

I watched this programme with the expectation that Portillo would be a pompous toff with no idea of the real world (ie. a Tory). He managed to shatter that view however, and I think he did a superb job given the circumstances.
Darren Share, UK

I felt he handled a difficult situation with tact and diplomacy and tolerance. He showed us all that the old values of eating together and asking permission to leave the table still count and that discipline and respect to elders and each other are important. I think both he and the family will have gained something for the exercise.

Michael Portillo is no longer one of the faceless politicians and should run for the leadership. I have not voted tory since Margaret Thatcher but he would definitely get my vote.
Lynda Johnson, England

I thoroughly enjoyed the Michael Portillo documentary last night. It clearly showed the UK class divide and to his credit Michael did achieve some success despite not being a parent. The mother also deserves praise for bringing up 4 children and still working and it would be interesting to see her try to live and work Michael's lifestyle for a week as well.
Steve Edwards, England

So the rehabilitation of El Portillo is complete! From tub-thumping Thatcherite to Merseyside single mum in, well, several fell swoops. And at a time when the Tories are perhaps looking for a new leader? The cynics amongst us would say that he has a close personal relationship with someone high-up in BBC scheduling.

Having said all that, while at times he acted clumsily and with hindsight probably should have divided his attention and loyalties more equally amongst the kids, he at least rolled up his sleeves and got on with it. Perhaps if he had have cried, as the eldest child was obviously hoping, it would have made better telly. But if, at the very least, a leading politician has learnt a thing or two about life on the other side of the tracks then it was probably worthwhile.
Wesley Moody, Belfast

I think Mr Portillo did an excellent job, I doubt my husband, who has 2 teenagers, would have manged as well especially on the cooking front. All things considered would I manage any better? Great viewing!
Janet Cresswell, England

I was annoyed that he had to be "mum"! I know that single parent families, tend to be more often than not headed by a mum, but what about us single parent fathers? We do exsist you know, even if we are a minority. We face the same or similar discrimination and problems too!
Dave Wilson, England

Portillo learns perils of childcare
30 Jul 03  |  Politics


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