Portillo pleads his case to the Tory core voters

FOR ALL his protestations that he has no designs on the Tory leadership, a throwaway remark by Michael Portillo yesterday suggests that he still has a grand sense of his destiny.

Travelling by train to Wellingborough, Northamptonshire on the first day of his campaign to re-enter political life, Mr Portillo reflected on his decision to come clean about his homosexual experiences at Cambridge.

"I think it will be of greater interest to historians than journalists," he said, without a shade of irony.

Travelling second class, and sans entourage, it was the only hint of the arrogant former Tory darling - apart from a well-smoothed quiff. His chief concern now was the tabloids. Despite his best efforts to pre-empt them, he knew that as he spoke they would be trying to track down past lovers. But it was not himself he was worried for, he stressed: "I have always felt very comfortable with the whole thing," he said. "I am sorry for the people who will be dug out because they are not used to the press."

Still he said resignedly, even if someone did spill the beans, he was happy to have "knocked the rumour-mongers on the head". "I was fed up with it and I didn't see why I should have to go through my whole career with it. There was an opportunity. While you are out of parliament no- one can demand your resignation."

Nevertheless, Mr Portillo's postbag was bulging yesterday. He seized on an envelope which bore handwriting he recognised. He smiled as he scanned the contents, before stuffing it in his briefcase.

"I'm very struck by some of the people who have come out with very favourable comments," he said. "Nigel Lawson, Chris Patten, Tim Yeo, Malcolm Rifkind and William Hague - and I am sure there will be others. I really am touched by that. Quite a few people have stopped me on the street and said, `well done'."

Mr Portillo may be quietly confident that the plum Kensington and Chelsea seat will soon be his, but he is a canny enough operator to know that a little modesty is in order.

"If they thought I was in any way taking them for granted that would do me enormous damage, so I don't take it for granted by any means," he said. "There will be lots of good candidates and they are under no obligation to choose me."

He is also aware that his tough stance on gays in the army while Defence Secretary now smacks of hypocrisy. "If ministers allowed their judgement on matters of national security to be formed by casual experiences they have had at university, that would be a very poor state of affairs," he said, smoothly.

At Wellingborough Station Mr Portillo was met by Peter Bone, the cheery prospective parliamentary candidate in this marginal Labour seat (187 majority) and the fuschia-clad Lady Fry, chairman of the local Conservative Association. The visit was scheduled months ago, but no one guessed what a big event it would become.

Jean Woodcock, 83, a lifelong Tory voter, was hosting a coffee morning. The shortbread was baked and her Spanish greeting ("Encantanda" meaning "I'm charmed to meet you") well rehearsed. Mr Portillo's recent admissions did not phase her. "As I've got older I've become more liberal," she said. "The man is solid gold. He's married, happily it seems."

Presumably satisfied that his admission had not upset the Tory grassroots, he began his speech with what was a rather daring anecdote. He said he was glad to meet people beforehand because he lived in fear of introductions: "I remember one time when a lady was fumbling with my CV," he said already eliciting sniggers from his audience.

"She said, `I just want to tell you all about Michael Portillo's biological details. Oh no, I'm sorry. I mean I just want to tell you about all the positions Michael Portillo has been in'." He paused. "That didn't sound much better."

The ladies of Wellingborough loved him. And so did the men. As one elderly gentleman told him: "We very much hope you will be able to ginger up Mr Hague and provide some opposition."

Careful. You could almost hear the alarm bells ringing in Mr Portillo's head. It was time for some more modesty: "I would love to be there to help.But let me tell you, if I was there it isn't going to be the difference between night and day. It's just one more pair of willing hands to join the team."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform