The British right can only reinvent itself by resolving the conflict between traditional conservatism and market liberalism. There's just one candidateby Tim Hames / June 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
There is probably no leading British politician for whom the general election campaign is more uncomfortable than Michael Portillo. This is not an entirely novel experience for him. On the eve of the last contest four years ago, he was the clear if not overwhelming favourite to succeed John Major in the event of the then Conservative government being ejected from office. That status obliged him to walk a fine line between loyalty and preparation. As matters transpired, the swing against the Tories was so great that Portillo lost his own seat in Enfield Southgate. His defeat offered William Hague, at the time a little known ex-cabinet minister, the opportunity to fill the space that had been unexpectedly created. Hague may come to regret that his chance arrived so early, for his shadow chancellor appears an even stronger contender for elevation in the event of electoral catastrophe today than was the case in 1997. And this time the electors of Kensington and Chelsea are unlikely to launch a local torpedo at the national ambitions of their new member of parliament.
If Hague comes to regret his decision to seek the leadership of his party at the age of 35, then Portillo has every reason for belated gratitude to his former constituents. It is far from clear that he would be the politician that he has become had it not been for involuntary unemployment at the hands of the electorate. He certainly would not be capable of capturing the breadth of support which may well be his if there is a vacancy for the leadership after the election. One of the many ironies of the 1997 debacle was that only those Tories who had lost their seats were capable of fully understanding the extent to which the electorate had come to detest their party. Yet the only eligible candidates for the leadership were those whose constituencies were so atypical that they were able to withstand the electoral avalanche of 1997. As soon as he re-entered parliament, at a by-election in December 1999, Portillo, unwittingly and unwillingly, assumed the status of the Alternative.
That status has been the source of numerous awkward stories. The most telling surfaced at the beginning of April. It was suggested that Kenneth Clarke and the Tory Reform Group had entered into a formal alliance with Portillo and his band of supporters. The overt evidence for this pact…