`These confessions will not worry the blue-rinse brigade'

CONSERVATIVES IN Kensington and Chelsea said yesterday that Michael Portillo's revelations about his homosexual experiences made no difference to whether he is selected as a parliamentary candidate. In fact, the blemish on his curriculum vitae may even boost his chances.

Before the former defence secretary's disclosure yesterday, he ran the risk of being vetoed by Tory constituents who felt he had been foisted upon them by party grandees. But now they can view him as someone who is "human", someone who will have to fight like the rest of them and, as such, deserves their serious attention.

Senior figures in the royal borough's Conservative Association added that while Mr Portillo's openness about his homosexual past might make it easier for him to become an MP, it would probably damage his prospects of becoming a future Tory party leader. "His confession will have earned him brownie points in the constituency, but as time goes on what people will remember is that he had gay sex rather than his willingness to admit it," said one ward chairman. "If there is anywhere in Britain where there is still some degree of hostility to homosexuality, it is in the Conservative Party."

Timothy Coleridge, vice-chairman of the education committee on Kensington and Chelsea council, said the association was "far less stuffy" than people think. "Everyone forgets that this is the association which chose Alan Clark to be their MP. We could have got any brilliant but safe up-and- coming Conservative, but instead we chose a 68-year-old philanderer," he said.

Mark Field, a Tory councillor and ward chairman, said that whether people are - or were - gay is a "non-issue" for members of the Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Association. "We've got a number of members of the association who are openly gay. The blue-rinse lady brigade are not going to be horrified," he said. "Personally I had always assumed from all the rumours that something had happened in his undergraduate days - and so what? Realistically, what's the big deal? We've all got a number of homosexual friends."

Another councillor, who preferred not to be named, described the association as a peculiar place where "people regard themselves, perhaps rather ludicrously, as independent minded". Many of its members felt deeply affronted by the way Mr Portillo's candidacy was being presented as a fait accompli in the press. Yesterday's revelation acted as a "suitable corrective" to that, allowing members to feel they were once more in control.

In the end their "high- minded liberalism combined with snobbery" would mean they would be likely to vote for Mr Portillo, he felt. "They would see it as a chance to rise above the ordinary tabloid reaction," he said. "This is not the Southern Baptists you're dealing with. Think Tatler."

For the less liberal fraternity, the fact that Mr Portillo made clear that his days of sexual experimentation were behind him may be enough to save him. "The implication that he disapproves of his conduct at university fits the bill very well," said the councillor. "It's a bit like American presidential candidates and cannabis. As long as it was while they were at university, it's all right."