Portillo victory on the cards

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Indy Politics

As the votes are counted in the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, estimates suggest that Michael Portillo will be an easy winner. The ballot papers laid out on the tables looked as though the former Tory cabinet minister had polled more than 10,000 of the less than 20,000 votes.

As the votes are counted in the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, estimates suggest that Michael Portillo will be an easy winner. The ballot papers laid out on the tables looked as though the former Tory cabinet minister had polled more than 10,000 of the less than 20,000 votes.

The election was made necessary by the September 5 death of former Conservative minister Alan Clark, who two years ago won the seat with a majority of 9,519.

The outcome in a traditionally safe Conservative seat, at the mid-point of the Labour Government, will be seen as indicative of the extent to which Mr Hague has succeeded in turning around his party's fortunes following its 1997 General Election drubbing.

Few analysts were predicting anything other than a Tory win, which would allow Mr Portillo to resume his Parliamentary career - and pave the way for a widely predicted elevation to the Shadow Cabinet.

But anything less than a healthy majority was sure to be interpreted as a clear sign that Mr Hague has yet to enthuse even his party's natural supporters, and that the Tories remain marooned in the electoral doldrums.

A poor result was also likely to increase the party's bitterness towards Lord Archer.

The final days of the campaign were overshadowed by the welter of negative publicity generated by Lord Archer's withdrawal as the Conservative candidate for London Mayor, following his admission that he persuaded a friend to fabricate an alibi in connection with a 1987 libel trial.

This week, Labour used a picture of Lord Archer standing alongside Mr Portillo in a campaign poster. Tonight, the augurs for Mr Portillo recording a morale-boosting result for his party looked none too bright.

Shortly before the polls closed aides to Mr Portillo - whose defeat in his former constituency of Enfield Southgate remains one of the most vivid images of the 1997 General Election - described the turnout as 'pretty bad'.

During a lightning tour of the constituency on Wednesday, Mr Portillo - tipped as a future Conservative leader - said: 'This is not an easy place to get the vote out.

'Only 55% voted at the General Election, a lot of people are away, the millennium is coming and people have taken their holidays now because they don't want to be travelling at the millennium.'

Tonight a Labour spokesman said: 'This was the 11th safest seat for the Tories at the last election, a seat where the Tories should be weighing the votes rather than counting them.

'We are proud of our positive campaign and proud to have forced the Tories to fight every step of the way.'

Today, Mr Portillo was forced to cut short a planned 45-minute session meeting and greeting people outside High Street Kensington Tube station to just five minutes when he was confronted by a gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Mr Tatchell, of the OutRage! group, was holding a banner proclaiming: 'Portillo Enforced Ban on Gay Soldiers'.

An annoyed but calm Mr Portillo, a former defence secretary, told Mr Tatchell: 'You are a horrible little man - go away.'

But he was unable to shake off Mr Tatchell, who asked him a barrage of questions about how he would vote on the age of consent, and the continuing ban on gays in the armed forces.

Mr Portillo, who at the start of the campaign admitted having had homosexual experiences in his youth, told Mr Tatchell: 'You're too late to affect the poll Peter - go away. You are carrying a chip on your shoulder. I will not be blackmailed by you. I will talk to my constituents, not to you.'

As well as Mr Portillo's other problems, several of the 18 parties standing, such as the Pro European Conservatives, the Referendum Party and the UK Independence Party, could have lured away Tory votes.

The 18 candidates were: Michael Portillo (C) Robert Atkinson (Lab) Robert Woodthorpe Browne (LD) Hugo Charlton (Green) Colin Paisley (Cannabis A) Earl of Burford (Dem Party) Lisa Lovebucket (Dream Tick) John Davies (Ind E) Howling Laud Hope (Loony) Gerard Valente (NLP) Peter May (Parent) George Oliver (Pensioners) John Stevens (Pro Euro C) Stephen Scott-Fawcett (Ref) Tonysamuelsondotcom (STCFOC) Louise Hodges (Sport) Damian Hockney (UK Ind) Michael Irwin (Will).

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