Widdecombe savages Portillo

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Indy Politics

Michael Portillo and his supporters have an even darker side than Michael Howard, says Ann Widdecombe in an interview with the Independent on Sunday in which she explains why she pulled out of the Tory leadership race.

Miss Widdecombe helped destroy Mr Howard's chances of leading the Tory Party in 1997 after saying there was "something of the night" about him. Now, having given up her own hopes of winning the leadership, she intends to stop Mr Portillo from lifting the crown.

She attacked Mr Portillo and his "henchmen" for undermining her and William Hague.

She said: "I wish that Portillo and his supporters had behaved as well as Michael Howard has behaved since that time, because he has never let a paper get between us. I know he did not support my drugs policy, but he found a way to defend it."

Miss Widdecombe said she was still furious with the way Mr Portillo's "backbiters" destabilised Mr Hague before the election with off-the-record briefings.

She is backing Michael Ancram, but if he dropped out she would switch her support to Ken Clarke to stop Mr Portillo. She denies accusations that she is opposing Mr Portillo for admitting a gay past.

"I don't seek to outlaw alternative lifestyles ... My problem with Michael's approach is not that he had these experiences ... it's that he's tried to elevate them into some kind of political philosophy."

She was scathing about his conversion to Tory social liberalism. "I haven't been happy about all the agonising. It looks self-absorbed and irresolute," she said.

The Portillo camp may dismiss her views on the grounds that she carried too few MPs to run for the leadership herself, but she has support in the party's grass roots that Mr Portillo desperately needs to win.

She was not impressed by Mr Portillo's leadership bid. "I wanted to hear from him on the economy; I wanted to know how we were going to include people who are losing out very badly. He had a launch in some swanky restaurant in the shade of St James's Palace. It's all Blair again. It's all Cool Britannia and big money."

Miss Widdecombe abandoned her own campaign due to lack of support in the Commons. She revealed that some Tory MPs refused to support her because of her looks. "It has shaken some of my supporters, but it didn't shake me.

"People have given me a variety of reasons, which have ranged from style to looks. One or two said the image was wrong in a televisual age, that I am not sufficiently televisual. Others have said what they see as my brand of 'social authoritarianism' they don't like. One or two have mentioned fox hunting [she is in favour of a ban]. Nobody has been personally rude."