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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 18:33 GMT 19:33 UK

UK Politics

MPs call for Portillo's return

Michael Portillo has ruled nothing out

Calls for Michael Portillo to relaunch his political career are coming from Tory backbenchers keen to see one of their party's most prominent figures return to Parliament.

Mr Portillo, who lost his seat in one of the most spectacular upsets of the 1997 general election, has been offered the possibility of a surprise return to Parliament by the death of maverick Tory MP, Alan Clark.

So far the former defence secretary has insisted it is too soon to discuss a successor to Mr Clark, whose death was announced on Tuesday.

Leadership potential

But Mr Portillo's continuing refusal to rule out standing has only served to fuel speculation that he will seek an early return to Parliament.

The BBC's John Sergeant reports: "William Hague is letting it be known that he would welcome Mr Portillo to frontline politics
Mr Portillo is seen by some party members as potential leadership material who may be able to take the fight for votes to Labour more effectively than the current leader, William Hague.

Mr Portillo said on Wednesday it would be "rather unseemly" to discuss the successor to Mr Clark, who died on Sunday from a brain tumour.

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

But a growing number of Tory MPs are calling on him to seek the Conservative nomination for the London seat of Kensington and Chelsea - the party's 11th safest seat.

Tory 'big beast'

Backbencher Peter Luff said: "He is a charismatic fellow and the Conservative party needs charismatic people.

"He is one of the big beasts in the Conservative jungle and we need people like him."

Fellow Tory MP Gerald Howarth said: "His return to Parliament at this stage would enormously enhance the Conservatives' capability.

"His return to swell our ranks would give the party an enormous boost."

'Alternative to Hague'

Another Tory backbencher, who asked not to be identified, said he believed Mr Portillo would go for it.

"It will be fascinating. For the first time in this Parliament it will provide a credible alternative to William Hague."

The Tory party leadership made clear there would be no attempt to stop Mr Portillo from seeking the seat.

Mr Hague is said to see his former Cabinet colleague as an asset to the party, while party chairman Michael Ancram said he would be "delighted" to put Mr Portillo's name on the shortlist Central Office must submit to the local party.

So far the Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Association has refused to be drawn on its preferences.

The by-election must take place by Christmas.

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