Portillo accused by former lover

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MICHAEL PORTILLO'S campaign to be selected as candidate for Kensington and Chelsea cleared three hurdles over the weekend; but possibly encountered another.

The first opinion poll and further statements by senior Conservatives showed continuing support for the former defence secretary who spoke last week of gay experiences he had had "in the past". And none of the weekend's tabloids produced any devastating revelations. However, writing in The Guardian, Nigel Hart, who has claimed an eight-year on-off gay relationship with Mr Portillo, accused him of giving a "cowardly and misleading version of what actually happened".

Specifically, Mr Hart said that his relationship continued until Mr Portillo's late twenties and was not a brief fling. Mr Portillo was not available to answer Mr Hart's claims.

Mr Hart, a company director, told a Sunday newspaper that they met at a party in London when Mr Portillo was 18, but did not consummate their relationship until a year later, when the future Conservative MP was a student at Peterhouse, Cambridge.

However, a Mori poll indicated that seven out of ten voters would accept a prime minister who had been homosexual and that six out of ten would accept one who was openly gay. Support for Mr Portillo among senior Conservatives was also holding. Ann Widdecombe, shadow Home Secretary and a committed Christian, joined other Tories in saying she would support a comeback by the former defence secretary.