Portillo fights for right to party

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The Independent Online
Fillet of beef was on the menu and, appropriately for Eurosceptics, so was Australian wine at pounds 8.50 a bottle. Flour was an unexpected addition, courtesy of the demonstrators outside Alexandra Palace.

One guest at a pounds 30-a-head dinner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the election of Michael Portillo to Parliament got his dinner-jacket covered in flour and soon police decided to escort the diners in through the back.

Inside the palace in north London last night, 500 guests were treated to a short film depicting the life of the Secretary of State for Employment from his boyhood role as the Ribena Kid in television advertisements to his current one as Baroness Thatcher's anointed ideological successor.

As if that were not exciting enough they listened to a speech from Gyles Brandreth, the Conservative MP and former television presenter also renowned for setting up a teddy bear museum.

Outside about 200 demonstrators from the Coalition Against the Criminal Justice Act refused to give thanks for Mr Portillo's decade in the House of Commons. ''Choke on your champagne you bastards,'' they chanted.

Mr Portillo, 41, darling of the right wing and a likely future Conservative leadership contender, was smuggled into the dinner, which cost pounds 20,000, out of sight of the demonstrators.

Lady Thatcher had a prior engagement, and Lords Tebbit and Parkinson were nowhere to be seen. The poster outside last night proclaiming ''It's Monstrous'' referred to a circus performing at the palace at Christmas.