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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 19:31 GMT

UK Politics

Tatchell changes tactics against Portillo

Peter Tatchell: Veteran gay rights campaigner

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has announced that he will not after all stand against Michael Portillo in the Kensington and Chelsea by-election.

The news came as Liberal Democrat candidate Robert Woodthorpe Browne launched his campaign at a news conference with Susan Kramer, the party's choice for London mayor.

Mr Tatchell had previously threatened to stand as an independent in the contest in order to embarrass Mr Portillo, the Conservative candidate for the seat considered one of the Tories' safest, over what he said was the former cabinet minister's hypocrisy over gay rights.

However, on Monday he said that although he would not be throwing his hat into the ring he would continue to confront Mr Portillo throughout the campaign for the 25 November poll.

[ image: Michael Portillo: Accused of hypocrisy over gay rights]
Michael Portillo: Accused of hypocrisy over gay rights
"I don't want to split the anti-Portillo vote and can campaign equally effectively against Portillo without being a candidate," Mr Tatchell said.

Mr Tatchell, who stood as a candidate for Labour in the 1980s, has already attempted to disrupt a news conference and a campaign appearance by Mr Portillo.

If he had become an official candidate he would had even more opportunity to embarrass Mr Portillo as he would have had a right to share a platform with him at election events.

Mr Portillo recently revealed that he had homosexual experiences as a young man. However, this has infuriated gay rights activists because when he was in Parliament he opposed equal rights for homosexuals.

And during his time as defence secretary in John Major's government he had upheld the ban against gays serving in the armed forces.

However, in a newspaper interview on Sunday Mr Portillo said he was not certain which way he would vote now on lowering the age of consent for gay men to 16.

"I think there are two competing considerations. One is a case for equality, the other is consideration of protection for minors. I think these are quite finely balanced," he said.

Lib Dems highlight environment

[ image: The seat was made vacant by the death of Tory MP Alan Clark]
The seat was made vacant by the death of Tory MP Alan Clark
At the Lib Dem news conference on Monday, Mr Woodthorpe Brown highlighted the environment, transport and housing as the three key areas of his battle plan.

Residents were angry about the introduction of red routes and demanding leaseholder reform, he said.

Mr Woodthorpe Brown was backed by Lib Dem peer and former Tory party vice-chairman Baroness (Emma) Nicholson, who accused Mr Portillo of using Kensington and Chelsea as a route to the leadership of the Conservatives.

"I do not attack the man but I do attack his policies which formed one of the main reasons for my leaving the Conservative Party," she declared.

"He was secretary of state for defence then but more pertinent are his views on Europe."

Mr Woodthorpe Brown said Mr Portillo's personality was "of zero interest to the majority of people here".

He added: "I did not fight on personality last time and we have no intention of going down that route this time, although I believe some of our opponents might."

The candidates who have announced they will contest the by-election so far are:

  • Conservative Party: Michael Portillo
  • Labour Party: Robert Atkinson
  • Liberal Democrats: Robert Woodthorpe Browne
  • UK Independence Party: Damian Hockney
  • Pro Euro Conservative Party: John Stevens
  • Green Party: Hugo Charlton
  • Official Monster Raving Loony Party: Alan "Howling Laud" Hope
  • Democratic Party: Charles Burford
  • Natural Law: Gerard Valente
  • Campaign for Living Will Legislation: Dr Michael Irwin.

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