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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 18:09 GMT
Profile: Michael Portillo
Michael Portillo
Portillo is pondering a future outside Parliament
Michael Portillo's political career has twice been defined by a spectacular rise and fall.

After his first election to the Commons in November 1984 as MP for Enfield Southgate, he rose quickly through the ministerial ranks; a charismatic speaker, he was ideologically perfectly in tune with Margaret Thatcher, and was a prophet of privatisation.

Mr Portillo became a member of John Major's Cabinet, most notably as Secretary of State for Defence; his hardline attitude was reflected in a gung-ho conference speech about the SAS.

For those that wanted the Conservatives out, my defeat was a highlight. I am better at politics than I am at anything else
Michael Portillo
November 1997

He declared: "Three letters send a chill down the spine of the enemy: SAS. Those letters spell out one clear message - Don't mess with Britain!"

That may have gone down well in the conference hall, but outside it was seen as being in bad taste.

He also inadvertently signalled his leadership ambitions when he made secret preparations for a bid in 1995 after John Redwood's challenge.

The media noticed the telephone engineers putting in extra lines but in the end he did not challenge for the job, a move which disappointed his followers.

His shock defeat in 1997 in his Enfield Southgate seat was, to many observers, the defining moment of the general election.

I regard the leadership thing as closed forever - I got quite close to it, but the moment passed
Michael Portillo
August 1998

Had he remained an MP, he would probably have become Tory leader; instead he began to present television programmes, to rediscover his Spanish roots and to "reconnect" with local people by working as a hospital porter.

Following his return to the Commons in a 1999 by-election, the re-invented Mr Portillo was immediately made shadow chancellor by William Hague, where he began to articulate a more caring, more socially responsible Conservatism.

His acolytes were accused of plotting and back-biting, something Mr Portillo says has made him "fed-up".

After the 2001 election defeat, he finally launched a formal bid for the Tory leadership, on a platform of radical party reform and a greater emphasis on public service.

Although supported by the bulk of the outgoing shadow cabinet, he was excluded from the final poll of the party membership by a single vote, and immediately announced his intention to return to the back benches.

Horrible, dejected, miserable, talking about the leadership all the time - it was the worst conference anyone could remember
Michael Portillo on the last Tory conference
In Parliament, he kept a reasonably low profile and went back to his fledgling television career, including a programme on Wagner's operas and more recently his week as a single mum.

He was particularly critical of the Tories' decision to sack moderniser Mark MacGregor as their chief executive, saying the leadership had brought troubles on itself and narrowed its appeal to voters.

And he branded this year's Tory conference as the worst anybody could remember.

When Iain Duncan Smith was toppled as leader, Mr Portillo stuck to his long-held line that he would not join another Tory leadership race, saying he could not win.

He backed Mr Howard's candidature before announcing he was stepping down from Parliament when the new leader offered him the chance return to the shadow cabinet.

Portillo learns perils of childcare
30 Jul 03  |  Politics


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