Portillo promises to end the years of Tory 'bigotry'

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Indy Politics

Michael Portillo pledged yesterday that he would take a tough line against MPs who made offensive remarks on race if he became Tory leader. The shadow Chancellor said he would have expelled John Townend, the former Tory MP, who provoked controversy before the election by accusing Labour of wanting to turn Britain into a "mongrel race".

In an implied criticism of William Hague, Mr Portillo said the storm over Mr Townend's remarks had cost the party "very dearly", adding: "It made people believe that the Conservative Party maintained some prejudices and some unpleasant outlooks which are certainly not true of the vast majority of people in the party.

"There can be no place for those sorts of opinions in the Conservative Party. We are a broad church and that means that we have to be open to everybody who lives in the United Kingdom.

"We cannot sustain that as a credible position if some people speaking on behalf of the party are giving opinions which imply we don't have respect for certain members of society." He called for an end to the years of "arrogance and bigotry", which had cost the Tories millions of votes.

Last night Mr Portillo launched a campaign to win the backing of grassroots Tories, who will decide the leadership election in a ballot, when he addressed party members in Guildford, Surrey. He wanted to reassure them that his call for radical change would not mean ditching the party's traditional values.

"I stand for change, but not for taking the party away from its roots," he said. "If we don't produce a new Conservatism for a new age, those many people who want an alternative to Labour will remain disappointed. Unless we learn the lessons of defeat we'll go on losing."

Calling on the Tories to win back Britain's "moderate majority", Mr Portillo warned: "Unless we can broaden the appeal of the party our future is bleak. Times have changed but the Conservative Party hasn't. We need to take giant steps. We don't ourselves need to become figures of fashion to value the diversity and creativity of today's Britain. But we do need to show we understand them."

Mr Townend, who retired at the general election, hit back at Mr Portillo's criticism, saying the shadow Chancellor would deny free speech in the party if he became leader.

"He doesn't want an open debate about whether we should have a colour-blind, integrated society or whether we should have a multicultural, multilingual, multi-ethnic society.

"These are serious problems and you should be able to debate with people who disagree with you without being called racists or bigots."

Another leadership contender, David Davis, called for police numbers to be increased by at least a quarter. He said: "The police are too overworked to protect the public effectively. But the Government wants to recruit only a few thousand officers. We need at least 30,000 more police officers and 15,000 more special constables to give the police a chance."