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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK

UK Politics

Portillo urged to stand

Portillo: Climbing back to frontline politics?

Speculation surrounding Michael Portillo's return to the House of Commons has intensified after the secretary of Chelsea Conservative Club invited the former Cabinet minister to stand.

The BBC's John Kampfner: "A lot of his friends say the time has come"
A by-election will be held in the traditionally staunch Tory seat of Kensington and Chelsea following the death of maverick MP Alan Clark, who had a 10,000 majority at the general election.

Mr Portillo is widely viewed as a future Conservative leader and his name was immediately linked to the seat when it became vacant.

[ image: Alan Clark: Majority of almost 10,000]
Alan Clark: Majority of almost 10,000
The former defence secretary lost his previous Enfield Southgate seat in 1997 and has consistently played down rumours he is plotting his return.

Quizzed about his intentions after Mr Clark's death was announced, he said: "I think it's rather unseemly yet to get into the question of who's going to fill Alan Clark's place.

"I just think that we ought to spend a while remembering what a marvellous chap Alan was and leave it at that."

But others in the party have been quick to urge him to put his name forward as a candidate to contest the by-election for the Conservatives.

Chelsea Conservative Club Secretary and a member of the constituency selection panel, David Lloyd, said: "Perhaps William Hague isn't overkeen but a lot of the party are.

"We are looking for a man who will represent our interests and who will make a name for himself. Portillo has got to get back into Parliament."

At Westminster, senior party sources made it clear Tory chairman Michael Ancram would be "delighted" to see Mr Portillo's name go forward.

Leading Conservatives are also stressing party leader William Hague would not mind if Mr Portillo did return to the Commons.

Darling of right faces competition

Mr Portillo has remained popular with many Tories and is considered by some as the natural heir of former leader Margaret Thatcher.

[ image: Portillo is widely considered to be Thatcher's natural heir]
Portillo is widely considered to be Thatcher's natural heir
The Tories have three months to issue the writ for the by-election, meaning the poll will take place before Christmas.

But the seat is likely to be hotly contested among other Conservatives who lost their seats in 1997.

Among other names speculated to have their eye on Kensington and Chelsea is former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

Sebastian Coe, who lost his seat at Falmouth and Camborne, could be in the running, even though he has recently proclaimed that he is happy in his present role as chief of staff to Mr Hague.

Another possibility is Graham Bright, who was defeated at Luton South. Mr Bright, 57, was parliamentary private secretary to John Major at 10 Downing Street in the last Parliament.

Alistair Burt, 44, was a social security minister in the last Parliament, and may also wish to try his luck in London following a defeat at Bury North.

Another name that has been mentioned is that of Iain Sproat, a former consumer affairs minister under Margaret Thatcher who lost his seat at Harwich.

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