No party for Portillo if he wins by-election

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BY Jo Dillon, Political correspondent

BY Jo Dillon, Political correspondent

21 November 1999

Michael Portillo has told his campaign team that there will be no lavish celebrations if he wins the Kensington and Chelsea by-election this week.

The former defence secretary was deeply upset at the adverse publicity over the glitzy party put on for him at Alexandra Palace in 1994 to mark the 10th anniversary of his first election to Parliament. He was mocked by the press and the Labour opposition for egotism and arrogance. He is understood to be determined to avoid a repeat performance if his come-back bid is successful on Thursday.

A senior Tory backbencher said: "Michael was cringing for weeks after the Ally Pally do. He has made it clear he doesn't want anything over the top if he wins."

Mr Portillo has been careful to keep himself out of the limelight since he was selected to stand in the safe Conservative seat left vacant by the death of Alan Clark amid rumours that many Tory MPs would back him as William Hague's successor as party leader. He has also keenly built up a reputation as a more "cuddly" person in his years away from front-line politics.

He recently admitted having had "homosexual experiences" as a young man, prompting the attentions of gay rights campaigners furious at his stance, when in Government, on homosexuals in the Armed Services and the age of consent.

The leader of one group, Peter Tatchell of OutRage!, said last night that he would be urging Kensington and Chelsea electors to vote for the Labour candidate, Robert Atkinson, who agrees with gay-rights campaigners on those issues. He said: "Mr Portillo has advocated discrimination against gay people. His victory would be a set-back for homosexual equality."

Despite the anti-Portillo campaign in Kensington and Chelsea, Labour privately admits it has a huge mountain to climb to defeat the Conservatives in the seat and the Tories say they are "confident" about the success of their campaign.

But Mr Portillo is determined not to fall into the trap of holding a high-profile party to mark his return to the Commons. He has said of the Alexandra Palace celebration: "It was horrible, horrible. Oh, God, it was one of the greatest nightmares of my life." He had "felt completely sick for six months" after it.

A Tory source confirmed last night: "There are no plans to have some great 'do'. When he was selected we had a glass of champagne and that was it. I should think it will be like that this time and he will want to get straight down to business."