Bunhill: Gloves off at the Treasury

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DO Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo get on? Of course they do, goes the conventional wisdom. The Chancellor and his Chief Secretary may be from different wings of the Tory party, but they have combined amicably and spend their days chummily plotting ways to sort out the dismal public finances.

I'm not so sure. According to high-grade tittle-tattle in the echoing corridors of the Treasury, Clarke seems to have excluded Portillo from some of the key decision-making meetings in the run-up to the Budget next month.

Portillo was mysteriously not invited to animportant meeting recently on the future of the defence budget - one of his key responsibilities - and is said to have been hopping mad. I hope they managed to patch up their differences at Dorneywood on Friday.

A very different atmosphere pervades Parliament Street these days. Norman Lamont was incapable of making a decision by himself. He begged for advice and longed to be told what to do.

Clarke and Portillo are of a different stamp. They both know precisely what they want, without much prompting from their civil servants. Unfortunately, they don't always want the same thing.

They are never going to be bosom pals. And when JohnMajor finally bows out, the chances are it will be these two who are scrapping for the keys to No 10.

Apparently Portillo, who remained loyal to Margaret Thatcher to the bitter end, has never forgiven Clarke for being one of the Tory wets who plunged the Sabatier into her.

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