Portillo takes on terrorists in fictional corridors of power

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The Independent Online

In his quieter moments Michael Portillo may still dream of the corridors of power, saving Britain from plots by foreign terrorists.

But last night the former defence secretary and Tory leadership contender took to the television screen playing a fictional British foreign secretary. He was planning military strikes to deal with terrorists creating havoc among British and American interests in Indonesia as part of a television docu-drama on the cable and satellite station BBC4.

He is a star of the BBC's Situation Room drama, where former US government officials play out fictional international crises. The show's slogan is: "The events in The Situation Room are fictional. The possible dangers it presents are not."

A US "president", played by Karl Inderfurth, who really was the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs until January 2001, is advised by a cabinet of former administration members who deal with the terrorism and hostage crises around a table in a fictional White House.

Other former US officials include John Podesta who was Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff, and Robert Oakley, the ambassador who was posted to Somalia to deal with the failed US incursion into that country in 1993.

In the three-part series, which started last night, they are faced with an attack on a US warship in Indonesia, followed by the kidnapping of an American citizen and a covert official.

Mr Portillo is shown discussing the deployment of gurkhas and British special forces against terrorists who have taken an American official captive and dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the British embassy in Indonesia.

One senior Tory aide commented: "It's very sad. He should be doing it for real."

Mr Portillo has already co-presented the BBC This Week politics programme with an old sparring partner, the Labour MP Diane Abbott. He also worked as a checkout assistant for a documentary about living on low pay.

While out of Parliament he has also presented a highly personal television journey to his father's Spanish birthplace.