Portillo was not candid over gay past, says Tebbit

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Indy Politics

THE FORMER Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit attacked Michael Portillo, the potential party leadership contender, last night, claiming he had not been completely honest over his homosexual affair.

THE FORMER Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit attacked Michael Portillo, the potential party leadership contender, last night, claiming he had not been completely honest over his homosexual affair.

Adding to Mr Portillo's woes, some of his supporters said they could no longer back him for the leadership because of his recent disclosures.

Mr Tebbit said of Mr Portillo, who is bidding to be Conservative candidate in the safe seat of Kensington and Chelsea in a forthcoming by-election: "He has just not been completely truthful. He owned up to a homosexual phase when he was not much more than a schoolboy and I am told that sort of thing is not uncommon amongst schoolboys.

"The truth of the matter is something different. What worries me about that is that he was not completely honest."

In an interview with BBC2's Newsnight, Lord Tebbit said the "affair" was not a matter of concern, but added: "What is a matter of great concern is that he should have thought to mislead people."

He declared: "I think it has damaged him. You see, it leaves us wondering now what sort of man Portillo is. Some of us were worried anyway by the fact that after the general election he seemed to change from being the hard-right, tough macho Secretary of State for Defence wearing the SAS badge, almost, to the soft-focus guy we saw subsequently."

Asked about his previous remarks that homosexuality was deviancy, Lord Tebbit said: "Quite clearly it is deviancy. If you look at the definition of 'deviancy', it is departure from the norm."

Mr Portillo appeared at a Bow Group fringe meeting at the conference last night to attack the Government's education policies. Among his natural supporters, however, there was considerable disquiet and a reluctance to back him in any leadership challenge because of his disclosures. "I am not against gays, but 30 per cent of the population would not vote for a gay prime minister and I wouldn't vote for him now as our leader," said a senior MP.

Mr Portillo used the meeting on education to call for private companies to take over state schools. The appeal for cash from parents by the head of London Oratory, the grant-maintained school to which Mr Blair sends his sons, was a symptom of the severe budget cuts facing grant-maintained schools, he said. But Mr Hague's allies were cock-a-hoop that Mr Portillo had been upstaged by Mr Hague's radical proposals for schools. Mr Hague's supporters said Mr Portillo no longer presented a threat. "His sting has been drawn. And if he comes back, he will be on his best behaviour," said a member of the Shadow Cabinet.

With Mr Hague's leadership still rating low in the polls, Mr Portillo's arrival in the Commons would have presented a threat. MPs said Mr Portillo's only chance of winning the leadership would be if the Tories hit "meltdown" at the next election. "William is safe until after the election," said one. Party leaders were also adamant that Tony Blair's Labour conference speech attacking the forces of conservatism has galvanised Tory supporters to rally round Mr Hague.

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