As Tory MPs voted yesterday to change the system for electing a new leader to one member, one vote (Omov) - the system that helped Labour modernise its appeal under Tony Blair to recover from successive election defeats - Michael Portillo (above) last night reaffirmed his credentials as a potential leader of a Euro-sceptic Tory party.
The change means that the Tory leader, William Hague, could be challenged if the parliamentary party passed a vote of no confidence in him, but it will avoid the destabilising annual readoption of the leader.
Mr Hague immediately welcomed the change as the first step on the road to his own modernisation of the Conservative Party. "It is just part of our programme to democratise my party. I want party members to be fully involved in what we what do,"Mr Hague said.
The move to Omov was widely expected after a U-turn by the officers of the 1922 Committee executive, chaired by Sir Archie Hamilton, backed the change. A total of 110 MPs voted in favour of moving to a system in which a leadership challenge would require a vote of no confidence, with 36 voting to keep the present system.
There were 102 votes for Omov, with 24 votes to keep the existing rules under which only Tory MPs would have the right to take part in leadership votes.
Labour sources accused the Tories of apeing new Labour. "The Tories should be worried - if this scheme had been in place a year ago, William Hague would not be the leader and Kenneth Clarke would be leading the Opposition."
It is unclear whether the change will enhance the chances of Michael Portillo taking over the leadership in the future, but the former minister reaffirmed his credentials as the leading Euro-sceptic in the party with a speech attacking the European single currency as a matter of principle. By taking a stand on principle against the euro, Mr Portillo went further than Mr Hague, who has laid out a pragmatic case against it for the next ten 10 years. Mr Hague's formula upset pro-European Tory MPs, including the grandees who wrote a protest letter to The Independent, but it leaves open the long-term possibility of entry.
Mr Portillo delighted Tory Euro-sceptic MPs by making it clear that he would never support entry to the single currency because of the powers and sovereignty it would transfer from Britain to a federal Europe.
Photograph: Brian HarrisReuse content