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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 11:43 GMT
Portillo bids to quell leadership fever
Conservative Party leader William Hague with Michael Portillo
The Tory leader and the man tipped to take over
Michael Portillo has said he has no ambition to lead the Conservative Party but has dismissed as "gossip" speculation that he wants to leave politics.

You really shouldn't pay attention to gossip. I'm going to stay in politics

Michael Portillo
The shadow chancellor had appeared to rule himself out as a contender for the Tory leadership in a statement to The Daily Telegraph.

The onetime darling of the Tory right told the newspaper he wanted to "play a full part" in helping his party beat Labour at the next election but that he had "no ambition" to be Conservative leader.

His comments led to fresh talk at Westminster that he was disillusioned with politics.

Responding to reporters' questions as he left his home on Wednesday, Mr Portillo sought to quash speculation that he was considering quitting the field: "No I'm not, you really shouldn't pay attention to gossip," he said. "I'm going to stay in politics."

"I put out a statement yesterday saying I had no ambitions for the leadership - I have been saying this for years and years, it's about time someone believed me," he added.

Asked if he was still enjoying political life, he said: "Luckily, yes."

'Agonising' claim

According to The Telegraph Mr Portillo had been "agonising" over his position as the man viewed as the natural successor to Tory leader William Hague.

I know he is committed to staying in politics, and both the party and the country should be very glad that he is

Francis Maude
In a statement to the paper, the shadow chancellor said he "wants to continue to play his full part in the shadow cabinet in helping the party to beat Labour and looks forward to being a member of the next government".

Mr Portillo, once an arch-Thatcherite, has come under fire from right-wingers in his party over his new "compassionate Conservatism" approach.

Baroness Thatcher, who herself once saw Mr Portillo as her prodigy, is reported to have said she believed he had become "very confused".

'A formidable politician'

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude, a fellow traveller with Mr Portillo on the Thatcherite wing of the party throughout the 1980s, insisted his colleague was not thinking of throwing in the towel.

"He is a formidable politician, a big politician," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "He has a huge amount to offer his country.

"I know he is committed to staying in politics, and both the party and the country should be very glad that he is."

Last month Mr Portillo and Mr Maude both resigned from the No Turning Back group, the Thatcherite caucus of the parliamentary Tory Party, after details of a private dinner were leaked to the press.

Thatcher's heir

During the last Tory government, led by John Major, Lady Thatcher made clear she saw Mr Portillo as her heir apparent.

At the 1997 election, however, he became the most high-profile Tory casualty when he lost his previously super-safe Enfield Southgate seat to Labour.

After almost three years away from Westminster he returned as the MP for Kensington and Chelsea at the by-election caused by the death of Alan Clark.

Around the same time and following long-standing rumours about his private life, he admitted to homosexual experiences as a student.

His revelation was seen as a move to clear the decks for a future leadership bid.

A Labour spokesman said: "No wonder he is considering quitting when all the Tories have offered to the country are splits, plots and cuts."

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See also:

07 Nov 00 | Business
Portillo calls for tax cuts
02 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Portillo turns back on No Turning Back
03 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Portillo's symbolic speech
01 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Tebbit: Portillo won't be leader
01 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Michael Portillo: A political rebirth
09 Sep 99 | UK Politics
The path of Portillo
11 Oct 99 | UK Politics
Portillo 'not honest' about gay past
28 Nov 99 | UK Politics
Portillo rules out Hague challenge
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