Portillistas lean on Black to bring 'Telegraph' into line

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Indy Politics

Michael Portillo's supporters are appealing over the head of Charles Moore, the Daily Telegraph editor, to Conrad Black, the newspaper's proprietor, to support his bid for the Tory leadership.

Mr Moore has run a series of leader articles questioning Mr Portillo's fitness to lead the Conservative Party.

However, Mr Portillo was one of the guests at a private party thrown by Mr Black and his wife, the writer Barbara Amiel, at their Kensington home last week. Mr Black told guests: "It's got to be Portillo."

Mr Moore astonished Tory MPs by suggesting at the start of the contest that David Trimble, the UUP leader, would make a better Tory leader. One Portillo supporter said: "We will be speaking direct to Conrad. You can't have the main Tory-supporting paper so far out of line with reality."

Other members of the Portillo camp also confirmed that they are seeking to force a change in the Telegraph's anti-Portillo line. A leader article on 15 June said: "Mr Portillo exudes dynamism and novelty but he does not yet inspire trust."

As Michael Ancram entered the contest, it said: "What does it mean nowadays to be a Portillista? It is not too much like a Blairista one hopes."

Tory sources said Mr Portillo is learning from Peter Mandelson, the author of the New Labour image that helped Tony Blair reinvent his party. Mr Portillo's choice of a St James's restaurant for his launch was seen as part of his rebranding of the Tories as a modern party. Guests at Mr Black's party said Mr Portillo and Mr Mandelson were in close conversation during the evening.

Mr Portillo's team failed in an attempt to persuade the Tory Party to speed up the selection of a candidate, which is now likely to run into September. Mr Portillo was the first to declare his candidacy, but his supporters feel that the delay will hand the initiative to his rivals.