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banner Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Portillo's symbolic speech
Tory leader William Hague and Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo
William Hague welcomes new-look Portillo
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

Michael Portillo said it himself - his speech to the Tory party conference was "symbolic".

In an address that surprised many with its tone, out went the gung-ho, right-wing Portillo who had wowed previous conferences with macho statements about the SAS.

And in came the caring, inclusive and tolerant Portillo who - after confessions about his own gay past - suggested the Tories were really the most liberal minded party in the country.

In the key section of his speech he declared: "We are a party for our times. We aren't a party that is against things and against people.

We are for people and for things. We are a party for all Britain. We are for black Britain, we're for British Asians, we're for white Britain.

"The Conservative party looks not for uniformity. We look for things that mark people out as individual and exceptional. We are for people whatever their sexual orientation."

Some of the old, true blue brigade visibly shivered. This was not the Michael Portillo they had come to love and view as the natural right-wing candidate for the party leadership.

But the majority appeared to welcome this new-look Portillo. And it was certainly a "symbolic" speech.

It neatly encapsulated what this rally is all about - "reaching out."

Leadership speech

There have been two overpowering and interlinked themes emerging from the conference.

Number one has been the suggestion that the next general election is all to play for and that the Tories can actually win it.

The second message has been that the party is inclusive and speaks for, and is ready to serve, everybody in Britain.

It is a new form of the "one nation" Conservatism that once made the Tories believe they were the natural party of government in the UK.

New Labour blew that presumption apart, and William Hague and Michael Portillo have learned the lesson.

This is, to all intents and purposes, the New Conservative party and Mr Portillo's speech dramatically symbolised that transformation.

Inevitably, it was also seen as a leadership speech.

Mr Portillo ranged far beyond his shadow cabinet brief to map out what many saw as a personal political manifesto. He was playing Gordon Brown to Mr Hague's Tony Blair.

In doing so he landed Mr Hague with a real problem. He now has to deliver a better speech than his shadow chancellor.

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