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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 05:09 GMT 06:09 UK
Portillo's 'relief' at losing leader battle
Portillo will not be a 'backseat driver' to the Tory leader
Michael Portillo has spoken of his relief that he failed in his one-time ambition to become leader of the Conservative Party.

The Tory former Cabinet minister argued that if he had seized the title he would have made such "big changes" to the party that he would not have been popular with its members.


If I had won, I would have made big changes in the Conservative Party and a lot of those changes would not have been popular

Michael Portillo
Mr Portillo, MP for Kensington and Chelsea, was voted out of the Tory leadership contest in the penultimate round last July.

The trophy was finally seized by Iain Duncan Smith following the resignation as leader by William Hague in the wake of the Conservative Party's defeat in the 2001 general election.

Mr Portillo said he had made a concerted effort to stay out of the spotlight since the leadership battle, to ensure he did not come across as a "backseat driver" to Mr Duncan Smith.

Film-maker

He did not speak in the House of Commons for six months and has ruled out a return to frontline politics.

He has since made films about Europe and the German composer Richard Wagner.

Asked by BBC's Breakfast with Frost whether he was relieved not to have become Tory party leader, Mr Portillo said: "I would say I was even relieved at the time in a way.


We don't have enough teachers, nurses and doctors as candidates

Michael Portillo
"There were three rounds of voting last year and I was top in the first two rounds, but actually I didn't have nearly enough votes to feel that I had the mandate that I needed.

"Because if I had won, I would have made big changes in the Conservative Party and a lot of those changes would not have been popular with the party.

"I hope they would have been popular beyond and I really felt I needed a huge mandate that I would need a real show of support and it wasn't there...

A change too far?

"So actually, I thought it would be terrible trying to do what I wanted to do without the sort of force of mandate."

Mr Portillo said his most controversial change would have been to the way candidates are selected.

"I would have wanted to make a very big show that the Conservative Party had changed.

"I think back to the way that Tony Blair had that great fight over Clause Four. In a way it wasn't even a necessary fight, but it was a way of demonstrating that the party had moved on.

"I think in the Conservative Party, it might have been over the issue of candidate selection because the Tory party, and I think IDS would say the same, needs to move to a situation where its candidates look like the population of the country.

Stress free year

"It is not just that we don't have enough women and we don't have enough ethnic minorities, it is also that we don't have enough teachers, nurses and doctors as candidates."

Mr Portillo admitted that his ambitions as a child were to be prime minister - and David Frost.

"I have had wonderful luck because I now have a career in politics and I am doing some work on TV," he said.

"I don't terribly want to make the choice. I don't see myself going back to the front line of politics."

Mr Portillo said his current plans were to stand again as MP for Kensington and Chelsea and he had enjoyed a stress free year which "is a terrific bonus after a lot of years in politics".

But he insists: "I think I don't have to rush into making decisions I don't have to make."

Silent voice

Mr Portillo said he did not believe the Conservatives should necessarily lead a "no" campaign against the UK joining the single currency.

But he said it had been a real principle of his to "disappear" for a while after the leadership contest.

"I decided to say nothing at all because there was no way I was going to be a backseat driver," he said.

"There was no way I was going to allow people to accuse me of carping or sour grapes or whatever and I want to maintain that silence.

"Iain Duncan Smith must do his own thing in his own way and he is not going to have me having a commentary in the margins."


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