Michael Portillo's campaign for the Conservative Party leadership will be dealt a potentially fatal blow by Amanda Platell, former spin doctor to William Hague, in a television programme to be broadcast tonight.
Mr Portillo said yesterday he was expecting a "pretty spiteful effort" by Ms Platell to wreck his campaign. But the venom contained in a video diary secretly recorded by Ms Platell, to be broadcast by Channel 4, is even deadlier than he expected.
The Platell tapes, seen by The Independent on Sunday, were recorded during the election campaign without Mr Hague's knowledge. Speaking directly to the camera, she alleges that Francis Maude, Mr Portillo's campaign manager, and Mr Portillo's supporters briefed against Mr Hague to "derail" the election campaign.
Plunging the knife into Mr Portillo, she says: "It would be death to any potential, wannabe leader if he was seen to be derailing an election campaign. There are certain things in the party you just can't do and that is one of them."
The film shows her mood changing as the campaign progresses, moving from light-hearted mockery of Mr Portillo's "quiff" to anguish and tears at the treachery inflicted on Mr Hague. Her attack is likely to have a profound effect on Tory MPs as they prepare to vote in Tuesday's crucial leadership election.
Ms Platell says that journalists were tipping her off that Mr Portillo's "people" and Francis Maude were privately briefing against Mr Hague's campaign for focusing too much on the euro and taxation.
She also says she was shocked that members of the Portillo camp gave journalists their mobile phone numbers on election night, with the clear implication that they were plotting to stage Mr Portillo's leadership bid even before the election result was known.
"I still find it slightly shocking that we're fighting so hard and all they're concentrating on is how they would pull it down," she says
Mr Portillo this week goes into the last round of the Tory leadership elections, with Iain Duncan Smith and Kenneth Clarke needing only a few votes to reach the final ballot. William Hill last night stretched Mr Portillo's odds from favourite at 2/7 to outsider at 9/4, behind Mr Clarke at 7/4 and Mr Duncan Smith the new favourite at 11/10. Ms Platell may have ensured that Mr Clarke and Mr Duncan Smith reach the run-off.
Although Ms Platell does not provide evidence that Mr Portillo personally was involved in the briefing against Mr Hague, that will make little difference to the many party members who liked and respected Mr Hague. Even if Mr Portillo gets through on Tuesday, he may find it hard to win support among the full Tory membership in the autumn ballot.
One of Mr Portillo's closest allies was stunned by Ms Platell's account. "He's dead," he said. Another of his supporters said: "They don't trust him. There is a residual loyalty to party leaders and they think he has stabbed one after another in the back."
Mr Portillo yesterday denied any involvement. "If there were an accurate account of the election campaign, that account would be one of how I supported William Hague every day," said Mr Portillo.
Former minister Steve Norris, a Portillo supporter, warned that many Tories would leave the party if the Thatcherite Mr Duncan Smith won the leadership. He added: "A lot of decent people will feel the end has come."
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