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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 November, 2003, 13:01 GMT
Howard mulls first shadow cabinet
Michael Howard
Michael Howard must manage without Michael Portillo
New Tory leader Michael Howard has spent his first weekend in the job finalising his shadow cabinet.

Among the posts he needs to fill is a senior job turned down by Michael Portillo, who is to step down as an MP at the next general election.

On Saturday Mr Howard took time out from planning his appointments - which he hopes to announce next week - to make an appearance behind the bar at a pub in his Folkestone and Hythe constituency.

He pulled pints as a celebrity barman to raise money for the Royal British Legion.

At a meeting with local Conservatives in Guildford on Friday night, Mr Howard described the departure of Mr Portillo - who once served as defence secretary and later shadow chancellor - as "a great loss".

Francis Maude, who ran Mr Portillo's leadership campaign in 2001, said he did not believe his departure would be a blow to the modernising wing of the party.

"In a way, it may make it a little easier because it will be less associated with him. It became very focused around his name."

'Lost enthusiasm'

John Bercow, who quit the Tory front bench to join last year's Portillo-led rebellion over gay adoption, said he was sorry but not surprised to see him go.

"He has been somewhat disengaged for the last couple of years," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Michael Portillo
I've decided my future lies outside the House of Commons
Michael Portillo

He denied that Mr Portillo, as a leading moderniser, had been a divisive force within the party - blaming those around him instead.

"All too often rather over-zealous aides, outside of Parliament and acting without Michael's authority, has done his and our cause more harm than good."

And he said Mr Howard would be able to bring the most talented figures from all sides of the party "inside the tent".

Mr Portillo announced his decision on Friday, saying that the offer of a shadow cabinet job from Mr Howard had "brought things to a head".

The Kensington and Chelsea MP said he could not turn down the offer without explaining his decision to leave Parliament and so had brought forward his announcement.

He said he had lost his enthusiasm for the "cut and thrust of the chamber", and was "keen to explore opportunities in the media, public bodies and the arts".

'Mellowed'

Mr Howard said Mr Portillo, who first entered Parliament in 1984, had had a "very distinguished career", and he was sad to lose him.

Probable contenders for top jobs in the new shadow cabinet include the current shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin, shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram, shadow deputy prime minister David Davis and shadow health secretary Liam Fox.

On Friday former chancellor Ken Clarke signalled he might be willing to take a senior party role outside the shadow cabinet.

Portillo was a great politician... I was desperately sorry he never became party leader
Robert, England

Mr Portillo said his departure had nothing to do with Mr Howard's election as Tory leader.

"I wanted it to be clear that the only reason I wasn't serving in the shadow cabinet was because I'm not going to be in the next Parliament and certainly not because I have any objection or lack of enthusiasm for working with Michael Howard," he said.

The MP has already built up a portfolio of media work and recently spent a week as a single mother for a TV documentary.

On Friday, his first full day in his new job as Tory leader, Mr Howard said the shadow cabinet selection was "a very important process and I'm not going to rush it",

Mr Howard was seen as a hardline home secretary in the 1990s and Labour has dubbed him "Mr Poll Tax" for his role in introducing the ill-fated community charge.

Mr Howard has argued he has mellowed since being in government, but he said he did not regret his time as home secretary.




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