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Former Conservative party Chairman, Norman Tebbit
"He's suddenly become an interesting politician, having previously been uninteresting"
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Thursday, 1 June, 2000, 19:07 GMT 20:07 UK
Tebbit: Portillo won't be leader
William Hague and Michael Portillo
Portillo is the bookies' favourite to succeed Hague
Michael Portillo, once the great hope of the Tory right to succeed John Major, is unlikely to become Conservative leader, according to party grandee Norman Tebbit.

The Shadow Chancellor will look "rather outdated" when the time comes to find a successor to William Hague, Lord Tebbit said in an interview with the New Statesman magazine.

"I think Michael is an unlikely leader. It's partly age. By the time Hague goes the Redwood/Portillo generation will look rather outdated," he said.

Lord Tebbit was a close ally of Margaret Thatcher and served as her party chairman, but he said he had always had doubts about the true political colours of Michael Portillo, long regarded as a protegee of hers.

"I have never been a Portillo fan. I could never make him out," he said.

"Remember his great SAS speech? Who dares wins. It made my toes curl in my shoes because it was so singularly inappropriate."


Since losing his Enfield Southgate seat at the last general election, Michael Portillo underwent a very public conversion. He acknowledged that the SAS speech had been a misjudgement, and called for a more compassionate style of conservatism.

Lord Tebbit
Lord Tebbit: Admits Tories will struggle to win the election
But Lord Tebbit thinks that the new, less hardline public face of Portillo is actually a truer portrait of the politician he has always been.

"I never thought Michael was the tough, right-wing ideologue he presented himself as - that was not the natural Portillo. We have seen the more natural Portillo since," he said.

"He hasn't reinvented himself - he's gone back to being what he is. That change has made it very difficult for him."

Lord Tebbit also suggested that there had been weaknesses in Mr Portillo's peformance since he returned to the Commons late last year as MP for Kensington and Chelsea.

I think Michael is an unlikely leader. It's partly age. By the time Hague goes the Redwood/Portillo generation will look rather outdated

Lord Tebbit

"He seems very hesitant. I think it will take him a few years for him to re-establish himself."

Election hopes

Lord Tebbit sounded a pessimistic note in the interview about the chances of the Tories returning to power.

He acknowledged that the buoyant state of the economy would make it hard for the Consevatives to win the next election.

But he praised William Hague, and said his performance had improved a great deal since he was elected leader.

"Something somewhere sparked him off and suddenly he became an interesting politician - having previously been uninteresting.

"As he gets more interesting people forget that he's bald, he's got an unusual voice and he's small.

Michael Portillo celebrates his return to parliament
Portillo was never a right-wing ideologue, says Tebbit
"I never wrote William off, though I felt he got some things wrong," he admitted.

Asked about rumours that Mr Hague might be gay, Lord Tebbit was dismissive.

"I think he and Ffion are very happy - another daft thing about politics is that you can't be celibate without people saying you're homosexual.

"For example, there's Ted Heath - he was celibate but Ted wasn't a raving queer."

But Lord Tebbit did admit that he had been angry about the way Michael Portillo had dealt with the revelations about his past homosexual experiences.

Lord Tebbit had gone on the record last year saying that Michael Portillo's gay past should not stop him standing again for parliament in Kensington and Chelsea.

But he acknowledged that he had been angry when detailed allegations of a homosexual affair later emerged in the press.

"Michael made a terrible mistake. His initial answer was truthful, but it didn't embrace the whole truth," he said.

"One is always wiser to put the whole darn lot on the table."

Lord Tebbit struck a critical note when asked about the number of gay ministers in Tony Blair's government.

"If you accept that the male homosexual population is 2%, it does seem to be a bit over quota," he said.

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See also:

26 Nov 99 | UK Politics
Michael Portillo: A political rebirth
09 Sep 99 | UK Politics
Portillo: In his own words
09 Sep 99 | UK Politics
The path of Portillo
11 Oct 99 | UK Politics
Portillo 'not honest' about gay past
28 Nov 99 | UK Politics
Portillo rules out Hague challenge
01 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Portillo's spending pledge
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