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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK

UK Politics

Portillo on course for by-election

Michael Portillo: Criticised by gay rights campaigners

The former defence secretary, Michael Portillo, has taken a step closer to becoming Conservative candidate for the Kensington and Chelsea by-election.

Mr Portillo was among a shortlist of four candidates which was narrowed down from a list of six at a meeting of party activists on Tuesday night.

Labour has already chosen its candidate, Robert Atkinson, a 45-year-old director of the working holiday company Camp America.

The by-election in the safe Tory seat was called following the death of the MP Alan Clark earlier this year.

[ image: Peter Tatchell:
Peter Tatchell: "OutRage! will be seeking to embarrass, shame and ridicule him"
But gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell says he may also stand against Mr Portillo, if the former minister becomes the Conservatives' choice to contest the by-election.

The other three candidates on the shortlist were former MP Derek Conway, Basildon councillor Mark Francois and local councillor Warwick Lightfoot.

The two contenders rejected by the meeting were Sotheby's director Hugo Swire and Camden councillor Pamela Chesters.

Mr Portillo was jostled and shouted at by gay rights campaigners as he entered the selection meeting.

The former defence secretary, who is married, revealed he had "homosexual experiences" as a student, in an interview earlier this year.

Mr Tatchell said that if Mr Portillo was selected he would consider opposing him "on a human rights platform".

'Unfit and unworthy'

He said: "It will give me a great delight to join him on the hustings to challenge his homophobia, hypocrisy and economy with the truth.

"OutRage! will be seeking to embarrass, shame and ridicule him at every opportunity."

Mr Tatchell said: "Despite his own gay experiences Mr Portillo has repeatedly voted against gay equality.

"His support for discrimination makes him unfit and unworthy to be an MP."

Mr Portillo left the meeting with rival candidate Derek Conway, avoiding the handful of demonstrators at the front of the building.

The final four Conservative candidates will now appear before all constituency members for a final ballot on 2 November.

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