The Tories in Bournemouth: Portillo tops the video pops with anti-Euro stance

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The Independent Online
SHARES in Portillos were up and those in Clarkes and Heseltines were stagnant yesterday, as the Conservative Party conference ended with John Major once again safe in the leadership, but with Europe remaining the party's great fault-line.

On the conference video stall, copies of Michael Portillo's speech were outselling those of his nearest rival by two to one, with Peter Lilley and Michael Howard - two more of John Major's 'bastards' - in second and third place. The Europhile Michael Heseltine, once the conference darling, could manage only fourth.

But representatives from a conference which sounded more right-wing and Euro- sceptic than ever, were somewhat more cautious about the wisdom of turning conference rhetoric into electoral reality to put before the voters.

And despite the hostility to Brussels which pulsed throughout the week, there was little support for Norman Lamont's proposition that Britain might have to withdraw. Stephen Bradshaw, 37, a small businessman from March in Cambridgeshire, said Europe was 'the big problem in the party'.

But he dismissed as unrealistic Mr Lamont's views on withdrawal, despite sympathy for them. 'The opt-outs aren't worth the paper they are written on, and I think we are on a relentless slope into a closer European union that I am not happy about. We should never have joined in the first place. But we have been in so long that it is not practical now to come out.'

The conference did appear to have moved to the right. Tim Holder, 59, West Gloucestershire's constituency treasurer, said: 'I don't think the Conservative Party can ever win without being right wing.'.

But others were more cautious about any marked shift to produce 'clear blue water'. Martin Conway, 66, from Norfolk North, said: 'Michael Portillo strikes a tremendous chord with people, and I believe John Major has shifted his stance a degree toward the right. But a movement severely to the right is just not on.'

He added that the party had to occupy the middle ground where the generality of Conservative voters stood.

Mr Conway didn't favour Mr Portillo as a future leader, believing 'he could possibly be very antagonistic and divisive. I think you need someone like John Major who can draw people together'.

Felicity Ann Croft, from the Bow Group, the centre- ground Tory research group, said Mr Portillo's remarks 'about foreign friends doesn't exactly endear one to people we have to do business with'.

She believes 'the Portillo sort of line' probably appealed quite a lot in the country. 'But, in essence, when you come down to it and talking about selling aeroplanes, they suddenly realise it's all about jobs for the boys.'

Jeremy Hanley's stock also rose sharply over the week. Unknown to most party members beforehand and painted as gaffe-prone by the media, his easy manner and string of jokes left representatives impressed. 'An inspired choice,' Mike Reidy, a retired banker from Bournemouth West, said.