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Tuesday, October 5, 1999 Published at 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK

UK Politics

Widdecombe sideswipe at Tory hopefuls

Ann Widdecombe: Insists she would be loyal whatever her personal views

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe has thrown a new cloud over the political aspirations of Tory "superstars" Michael Portillo and Jeffrey Archer.

Speaking to BBC News Online ahead of Mr Portillo's much-anticipated appearance at a fringe meeting in Blackpool, she said she would serve under any elected Tory prime minister whether or not she believed the selection was "sensible".

[ image:  ]
And she pointedly refused to endorse Lord Archer as London mayor, declaring she disapproved of his past behaviour.

Mr Portillo, who wants to be the Tory candidate in the forthcoming by-election in the safe Tory seat of Kensington and Chelsea, recently admitted to a homosexual past.

He is widely tipped as a future Tory leader and is seen as a potential threat to William Hague, but many believe his past sexuality may undermine his chances.

Ann Widdecombe: "I will support any Tory prime minister even if I think his election was not sensible"
Mr Archer has been elected by the Tory party as its candidate for London mayor, but his colourful and controversial past has seen him accused of sleaze by his detractors.

Ms Widdecombe, renowned for her strong views on morality, made her comments just moments after delivering a barnstorming, off-the-cuff, conference speech which revived speculation about her own leadership potential.

[ image: Michael Portillo: Conference appearance on Tuesday evening]
Michael Portillo: Conference appearance on Tuesday evening
She expressed doubts over Mr Portillo's suitability as a future Tory prime minister declaring: "I will always serve any prime minister who the Tory party elects as leader, quite regardless of whether I think that election is sensible or not.

"I have always been loyal to people for whom I didn't vote for," she said.

She insisted she wanted to see the ex-defence secretary back in the Commons and insisted she would be happy to work alongside him.

"I think we have to look at the facts of life. I have spent most of my time in politics serving on committees either with people whose heterosexual practices I didn't approve of or whose homosexual practices I didn't approve of.

"I don't judge people by their private way of life even if I have got a view on the moral content. I don't judge people by that, I judge people by their competence and of course if they have been elected by the electorate it is not for me to say they shouldn't have been," she said.

Ann Widdecombe: "I did not condone certain actions Lord Archer has in the past indulged in"
She also repeated her view that the traditional family unit should be the bedrock of society.

"I take a view that we should promote the traditional family as the preferred social model. I have never suggested for one moment that we should persecute or outlaw other models merely that we promote the preferred model which should be the traditional family."

[ image:  ]
Referring to Lord Archer, she said she did not condone "certain activities which he has in the past indulged in."

And she added: "London Tories have chosen on a democratic basis Lord Archer. He has interesting and imaginative policies for London and I will go out and campaign for those policies."

She said she did not vote in the contest because she recently moved from her Lambeth home and didn't get a ballot paper.

But, asked if she would have voted for the former Tory chairman, she said: "I can't say for whom I would have voted because, obviously didn't have to take the decision."

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