Tatchell is told to stay out of by-election

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By Jo Dillon, Political Correspondent

By Jo Dillon, Political Correspondent

14 November 1999

Labour has told gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to keep out of the Kensington and Chelsea by-election battle against Michael Portillo.

OutRage! protester Mr Tatchell had threatened to dog the former defence secretary's campaign for the ultra-safe Tory seat by standing as an independent, but has decided not to do so because it would have meant instant expulsion from the Labour Party, of which he has been a member for many years.

Party sources denied that anyone had coerced Mr Tatchell into his decision but admitted he had been approached by homosexual Labour Party members who asked him not to get involved with the campaign.

It is understood that Stephen Twigg, the homosexual Enfield Southgate MP who defeated Mr Portillo in the 1997 General Election, was among those who let Mr Tatchell know that his "love of the limelight could help Portillo".

A party insider said: "It was put to him that the course he was embarking on was counter-productive. Portillo was preparing to be a victim and the prospect of having 'noisy oiks' shouting at him was manna from heaven."

Labour campaigners and members of the local party have pointed out that the official Labour candidate Robert Atkinson's views on Clause 28, homosexuals in the military and the age of consent are broadly similar to Mr Tatchell's own.

Mr Tatchell first said he would take part in the campaign after Mr Portillo beat three short-listed rivals to win the Conservative nomination to contest the late Alan Clark's seat.

Mr Portillo's selection victory came just months after he admitted that he had had "some homosexual experiences as a young person" - a move seen as an attempt to wipe his slate clean before a probable Commons comeback.

The local Labour party is keen to ensure that Mr Portillo's admission does not become a factor in the by-election campaign, insisting that they have a "political case" against the former Cabinet minister.

One key area, which has emerged in their election strategy, is to highlight Labour's commitment to reforming leasehold, since 30 per cent of voters in the constituency live in leasehold properties.

Party insiders hope the measure will be included in the Queen's Speech scheduled for next Wednesday. The by-election will be held on 25 November.