Column One: Michael, you can run but you can't hide

AS MICHAEL PORTILLO scuttles past the gay rights protesters outside Kensington Town Hall tonight, to stake his claim for the nomination of the local Tories, he must wonder whether his admission, last month, of a gay past was wise.

The revelations have already prompted a former lover, Nigel Hart, to kiss and tell - disclosing how he once discussed with Mr Portillo whether a gay lifestyle could harm a politician's chances. Mr Portillo allegedly replied that the time could come "when no one will care". The question now is whether that time has arrived in Kensington and Chelsea.

When Mr Portillo was confronted with Mr Hart's tabloid revelations I knew exactly what he was going through. As he hid from the media circus I remember my own "outing" by a tabloid newspaper five years earlier. I did everything I could to run away from the rat-pack banging on the gate of my home. The feeling that one's life is being stripped bare for everyone else to mock, gossip, to laugh at and to ridicule is virtually impossible to put into words. There is only one response: to escape.

Mr Portillo's reaction seems to have been the same as mine and for several weeks he has been abroad. He probably dreads the telephone ringing in case there is more bad news. As a relatively minor MP, the press lost interest in me but there were still major aftershocks, not least the recognition that there would be further questions to answer.

Mr Portillo is about to face this aftershock and from tomorrow morning, if he is selected, he will no longer be able to slink in and out of side entrances, for fear of demonstrations or awkward queries from the press.

Until his election defeat Mr Portillo had showed an enviable ability only to address issues he wished to discuss and he progressed - like a hovercraft skimming the political waves - with only the occasional bump. From grammar school, to Peterhouse, Cambridge; from Conservative research department to special adviser; from MP to cabinet minister, his progress was effortless.

Now it is all so different as he seeks to resurrect his political career. An embattled Tory party needs Mr Portillo's skills more than ever and even William Hague, who might have reason to fear Mr Portillo's return, is supposed to have said "we need him back".

But just as the sun begins

to rise on Mr Portillo's return, along comes a former gay lover, a hundred prying newspaper journalists and television cameramen and, now, Peter Tatchell and his supporters from the gay pressure group OutRage! .

Can Mr Portillo turn it round? More importantly, can the Conservative Party handle it? The next three weeks will give the answers. Mr Portillo will go to this evening's final round for the constituency party nomination with a mixture of dread, anxiety and quiet confidence.

Outside the hall, gay rights protesters will argue that he cannot run away from his past. Inside, however, Mr Portillo will relish giving the speech of his life in the hope of bringing to an end his 30-month stint in the political wilderness.

If he is selected it will show that the Conservative Party is prepared to "forgive" a candidate the early dalliances of his student days. Rejection would send out a message that the party cannot even cope with former gay candidates, never mind openly gay MPs.

The dilemma for local Tories is that if they select Mr Portillo, Mr Tatchell could stand against him. Far better, some say, to play safe with Derek Conway, the former government whip.

There is a great opportunity for Mr Portillo to do himself, his party and even gay rights a favour. But it will require a degree of courage forcing him to answer questions which hitherto he has avoided.

These include "How did you stop being a homosexual?" "Were you and do you remain bisexual?" "Do you intend to stick to your past voting record on gay rights?"

No evasion by refusing to debate on public platforms or refusal to hold press conferences will make Mr Tatchell or the press go away. I believe Mr Portillo should take a risk and volunteer the answers immediately after tonight's meeting.

He made an excellent speech during the party conference in 1997 - where he hinted at greater tolerance - on which he can build reasons for changing his mind on his past anti-gay voting record. At a stroke he can drag the Conservative Party into the 21st century, distance himself from the charge of hypocrisy and relieve us of a distracting OutRage! campaign.

Failure to be bold may leave either Mr Conway the winner, or provide three weeks of hell for Mr Portillo, who would be constantly on the lookout, yet again, for escape routes from tricky questions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor