`Disloyal' Portillo accused of undermining Hague

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL PORTILLO'S hopes of a political comeback suffered a setback last night as William Hague's allies accused him of undermining the Tory leader.

The former defence secretary also met problems in his attempt to win the Tory nomination for the Kensington and Chelsea by-election. Supporters of Mr Portillo are said to have found hostility among local Tories, who claim he is taking the nomination for granted. Nominations close tomorrow.

Although Mr Hague has said he wants Mr Portillo back in the Commons, the leader's allies revealed the simmering tension.Senior officials claimed a "fifth column" of Portillo supporters at Conservative Central Office had been "broken up" by Mr Hague. Hague allies claimed the "Portillistas" saw their first loyalty to Mr Portillo, and were prepared to undermine theleader in the hope he could be ousted before the next election.

The Hague camp suspects pro-Portillo officials of being behind a string of embarrassing leaks about ill-fated attempts to relaunch Mr Hague.

A Central Office insider said last night: "The Hague inner circle is fed up to the back teeth with this. They want to focus on policy, but they are constantly being distracted by malicious leaks about his image."

The "Portillistas" are also accused of using The Times to undermine Mr Hague. Some of the paper's senior journalists are close allies of Mr Portillo, who revealed his homosexual past in a Times interview this month. Mr Hague is said to be furious that Mr Portillo originally timed the interview for the start of the Tory conference in two weeks' time.

Despite professing his loyalty to Mr Hague, Mr Portillo has publicly differed with him over the single currency, his opposition to the appointment of Greg Dyke as BBC director-general and the leadership's rejection of a free-market approach to public services.Last night friends of Mr Portillo dismissed the allegations

The tension overshadowed the Mr Hague's latest policy pledge. He told MPs the party would offer NHS patients a guarantee on when they would be treated to end the current "postcode lottery".