Rebel peer challenges Portillo

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Indy Politics

Michael Portillo will face a formidable if unorthodox opponent in his bid to win the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, it was announced tonight - the Earl of Burford.

Michael Portillo will face a formidable if unorthodox opponent in his bid to win the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, it was announced tonight - the Earl of Burford.

The 34-year-old hereditary peer, who grabbed the headlines last week when he staged a one-man protest in the Lords over reforms to the upper house, is to stand for the embryonic Democratic Party.

The political group, which has only a few hundred members, was launched little more than a year ago by Worcestershire businessman Geoff Southall.

Campaigning under the slogan "The Will of the People not the Party", it promises to implement only the will of the electorate, as gleaned from polls, surveys and meetings.

The Earl himself, who accused Tony Blair of treason as he dramatically leapt on to the Woolsack last Wednesday, was not available to explain the reasons for his new venture tonight.

Appearing as plain Charles Burford, he will be officially unveiled as a candidate at a Westminster press conference tomorrow.

But Mr Southall denied there was any irony in an earl, famous for defending the rights of hereditary rulers, being the public face of a party committed to democracy.

He said: "I don't have a problem with what he did as a protest because the House of Lords is the last bastion of our democracy.

"I cannot go along with the hereditary principle, but the House of Lords is the only thing stopping Britain becoming an elected dictatorship.

The 59-year-old, who leads and funds the party, said he wanted the rights of hereditary peers preserved until a better alternative was decided upon.

The campaign is also being backed by John Gouriet, a veteran espouser of right-wing causes who heads the group Freedom in Action.

Mr Gouriet said tonight he had helped persuade Lord Burford to stand, as well as "talking over" the Lords protest with him before it happened.

He said: "Lord Burford feels very strongly as a true patriot that the Conservative Party has failed completely to stop the revolutionary march of socialism in the last few months.

"This has been brought to a head because of the abolition of the hereditary peers in the House of Lords without anything sensible to replace it.

"The Conservative Party failed to resist this when it had all the necessary support in the House."

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