Monitor: Just waiting to put him down - Michael Portillo's return

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Comment following the former cabinet minister Michael Portillo's selection by Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives as Tory candidate for the forthcoming by-election

The Economist

MR PORTILLO will undoubtedly now become the MP for Kensington and Chelsea, one of the Tories' safest seats. Mr Hague will undoubtedly promote him to the Shadow Cabinet, so that, in any leadership bid after defeat in the next general election, Mr Portillo will not be able to escape a share of the blame. What is still in doubt is whether the party and electorate at large care as little as Kensington and Chelsea seems to about his homosexual episode. There are bigots in the party and political rivals who are not bigots who will quietly exploit bigotry in order to confound him; and gay activists who resent his failure to support them in his previous political life. Plenty of people will always wait up for a chance to put him down. (Bagehot)

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The Express

PORTILLO WILL not merely revive the party by lending weight and power to its lacklustre front bench. He will also bring inspiration through his ideas. For two-and-a-half years the Conservative front bench has been a feeble and embarrassing spectacle. Many members of the Shadow Cabinet are, quite simply, not up to the job. Only William Hague, Ann Widdecombe and John Redwood have managed to disconcert Government ministers on a regular basis. This failure is not simply... of concern to Tory activists, it should alarm everyone who cares about democracy in Britain. So the return of Portillo to the Commons is to be welcomed. (Peter Oborne)

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Tribune

IT SAYS a great deal about the current state of British politics that the unsurprising return of Michael Portillo to the Conservative frontline is reported with such orgiastic frenzy. Since being roundly defeated by the electors of Enfield Southgate, Mr Portillo, the hard man of the Tory right, has been on a voyage of self-discovery. In common with most politicians he wants to be loved, and the painful discovery that his earlier, strident Thatcherism did not endear him to the great British public may be partially responsible for his utterly transparent exercise in repackaging.

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New Statesman

PORTILLO'S RETURN tells us much more about the state of the Conservative Party than it does about the intriguing personality of Portillo. As far as I can tell, Portillo's views on policy have not greatly changed, even if his rhetoric has mellowed. He remains an unequivocal opponent of the single currency. His views on public spending no doubt chime with those of the leadership, which offers a "guarantee" that the tax burden will fall in the next parliament. As everything Portillo says is turned into a pamphlet, I have been able to check thoroughly. There is no indication where his cuts would fall. So far, Portillo's sums, like his party's, do not add up. (Steve Richards)

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Financial Times

FROM WITHIN the Shadow Cabinet Mr Portillo will have to grapple more positively with the detail. He has the ability and imagination to do this. Indeed he towers above most of the Shadow Cabinet in these respects. He also has the panache to project a new Tory image to the public. The big test now is whether he and Mr Hague can work closely enough together to make such a transformation effective. If, on the other hand, Mr Portillo's re-election becomes the signal for another struggle for the leadership, both will be lost, and the party will go down with them.

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The Times

THERE IS an unfortunate prospect that the Labour Party will fight an intensely personal and unpleasant campaign against Portillo. Such a strident effort would not be aimed at winning the seat, or even running Mr Portillo close, but inflicting political damage on the Tory candidate, his leader and his party. It will consist of the charge that Mr Portillo's selection represents further proof of a "lurch to the right" by the Conservatives. The fact that such a claim can hardly be justified by Mr Portillo's record in office, let alone the fundamental reassessment of politics that he has engaged in since May 1997, will be of no consequence. If mud might stick then it is certain to be thrown. Conservatives would be right to leave the gutter to others. They should allow their opponents to appear shrill instead, and stick to the real issues that matter most, not only in this mostly affluent constituency but in the country at large.

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The Daily Telegraph

IT IS a tribute to Mr Portillo's staying power that the prospect of his return to Parliament is of as much interest to Labour MPs as to the Tories. The Labour leadership is undoubtedly looking forward to Mr Portillo's return destabilising William Hague, and will undoubtedly do everything it can to foment speculation that he is plotting to take over the Tory leadership. But Labour also fears Mr Portillo. They acknowledge that he is a politician with that increasingly rare attribute - charisma. There is undoubted admiration among some Labour MPs at the way he learned the lessons of defeat and has sought to reinvent himself as a caring politician, ditching his strident right-wing past. (George Jones)

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