Widdecombe attacks Portillo's 'back-biter' friends

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Indy Politics

Ann Widdecombe today launched an extraordinary attack on her potential Tory leadership rival Michael Portillo.

Miss Widdecombe vowed she would never serve under him unless he got rid of the "back biters" who surrounded him.

"If he wins, I will be loyal to the office of whoever wins. I think the difficulty there would not be Mr Portillo because once somebody has been elected it's the duty of people to get on and serve them," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But the problem would be that little band of back–biters that surrounds him. I don't think I could go through another four years of that."

Pressed on whether she would join a shadow cabinet led by Mr Portillo, she said: "First of all, I wouldn't be holding my breath waiting for the invitation.

"Secondly, unless there's a revolution in the way he controls his supporters the answer's 'no'."

Miss Widdecombe's outburst laid bare the tensions and bitter personal rivalries

within the shadow cabinet.

The shadow home secretary did not name the "back–biters" she was referring to, or specify which comments she had in mind.

However at last year's Tory Party Conference, her "zero tolerance" approach to cannabis was spectacularly derailed when a number of shadow cabinet ministers, several of them supporters of Mr Portillo, disclosed they had tried the drug as students.

Miss Widdecombe has yet to declare her hand in the leadership race, saying that she is still taking "soundings" among Tory MPs before deciding whether to run.

"I am not making any declaration today. I have already made my position clear. I have a huge amount of support from the party in the country. The letters are flowing in," she said.

"But unless I can get what I regard as a reasonable level of support amongst my parliamentary colleagues, I am never going to get before the party in the country, that is what I've got decide whether that's going to happen or not."