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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Show of unity by Hague and Portillo
William Hague and Michael Portillo
Mr Portillo's supporters have fuelled speculation
Conservative leader William Hague and shadow chancellor Michael Portillo have made a show of unity in the face of speculation about a post-election leadership challenge.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder at an Essex farm during a visit to highlight Tory policies on the foot-and-mouth crisis, the pair both spoke of the shadow cabinet's "complete loyalty" to Mr Hague.


I have the complete loyalty of the shadow cabinet, they are loyal to each other and to me

William Hague
The comments came after a string of media reports about a possible challenge to Mr Hague's leadership after the general election.

Former Conservative prime minister Lady Thatcher was also drawn into the debate when she declined a request from a Tory backbencher for her to issue a party rallying call.

Mr Portillo and Mr Hague made their own attempt to stamp out the speculation on Thursday.

The shadow chancellor was challenged by reporters over alleged press briefings by his supporters about his leadership ambitions.

"I don't think any such thing has happened," he insisted.

'Complete loyalty'

"I think every member of the shadow cabinet quite rightly has given complete loyalty to William Hague, which is what William deserves.

"I think William knows that he has received complete loyalty from every member of the shadow cabinet.

"I don't think there's been any doubt about that in any of our minds - neither William's nor mine nor anybody else's."

Unprompted, Mr Hague then said "I absolutely agree" with Mr Portillo.

No distraction

"I have the complete loyalty of the shadow cabinet, they are loyal to each other and to me," the Tory leader insisted.

"We are not going to be side-tracked by media reports - which appear to be based on nothing - from the job of putting forward policies on this foot-and-mouth crisis and of fighting an energetic and united election campaign when that time comes."

Mr Hague said speculation about his leadership "appears to come from the media rather than from the actual shadow cabinet".

Lady Thatcher was urged to intervene by Gerald Howarth, one of her former parliamentary aides and the MP for Aldershot.

He told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: "I think it would help enormously if Margaret said something. She still commands huge respect and affection, and remains a commanding figure."

But a spokesman at her office said she did not wish to become involved.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"A strange state the party is in"
See also:

18 Apr 01 | UK Politics
16 Apr 01 | UK Politics
29 Nov 00 | UK Politics
03 Dec 00 | UK Politics
03 Dec 00 | UK Politics
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