Portillo says he will never again run for leadership

Michael Portillo has ruled out a challenge to Iain Duncan Smith by saying he will never again stand as a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

The MP for Kensington and Chelsea was for many years regarded as the natural heir to the Tory throne. But he said yesterday: "I have weighed the evidence as to whether I think the Conservative Party would want to accept me, and I have weighed the evidence as to whether that is the sort of life I want to take on. I have been in Parliament 15 years on and off, and I think I've really had enough of all that."

The news will hearten allies of Mr Duncan Smith who have been fending off talk of a leadership challenge if he fails to revive the party within a year. A poll this weekend found two-thirds of Tories believe Mr Duncan Smith will never be Prime Minister and only 43 per cent believe he is the best leader the party could have.

Yesterday Mr Portillo expressed support for Mr Duncan Smith's programme of change and urged him to be "his own man" in pursuing reform.

He said the Shadow Cabinet should not be blown off course by voices from the past, such as Lord Tebbit, who have criticised the policy of exorcising the Tories' "nasty" image.

MPs called last night for the Tory chairman, Theresa May, to investigate allegations by Lord Tebbit that unnamed figures he calls the "movement" have been plotting to oust him from the party. Derek Conway, Tory MP for Bexley and Sidcup, said he was "deeply concerned by reports that a shadowy group exists within the party".

Mr Duncan Smith will begin a three-week tour today to promote the party's new policies with a visit to Manchester.