Michael Portillo

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Michael Portillo

Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo (born May 26, 1953) is a journalist and was a British Conservative politician.

He was born in Bushey, in Hertfordshire. His father was an exiled Spanish republican, Luis Gabriel and his mother, Cora Blyth, was Scottish. He was educated at Harrow County grammar school and then won a scholarship to Peterhouse, Cambridge where he came under the influence of don Maurice Cowling. He graduated in 1975 with a first-class degree in history, and after a brief stint with Ocean Transport and Trading Co., a freight firm, he joined the Conservative Research Department in 1976. Following the Conservative victory in 1979 he became a government adviser. He left to work for Kerr-McGee Oil from 19811983 and contested his first political seat in the 1983 general election standing in Birmingham Perry Barr against Jeff Rooker and losing badly. He returned to advisory work for the government and in 1984 he stood and won the Enfield Southgate by-election following the death of the incumbent, Anthony Berry, in the Brighton hotel bombing.

Portillo retained the Enfield Southgate seat until 1997. Initially he was a PPS to John Moore and then assistant whip. In 1987 he was made under secretary for Social Security, in 1988 he was given his first ministerial post as Minister of State for Transport. He then held the local government portfolio (1990). He demonstrated a consistently hard right line and was favoured by Norman Tebbit and Margaret Thatcher. His rise continued under John Major, he was made a Cabinet Minister as Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1992) and then held the portfolios of Employment (1994) and then Defence (1995-1997). The Defence job was a reward for his cautious loyalty to Major during the leadership challenge of John Redwood. During this time he opposed the admission of homosexuals to the Armed Forces, a stance which would later return to haunt him.

His loss in the 1997 general election to Stephen Twigg came as a shock to many politicians and commentators, and came to symbolise the extent of the Conservatives' rout. Memorably he was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on the election night prior to the calling of his own seat and was stumped by the question of 'Are we seeing the end of the Conservative Party as a credible force in British politics?' He renewed his attachment to Kerr McGee but also did substantial media work to maintain his profile including programmes for the BBC and Channel 4. He worked hard to reposition his reputation as more of a centre-right figure, even confessing to youthful homosexual dalliances.

He returned to parliament in a by-election in late November 1999 representing Kensington and Chelsea, succeeding Alan Clark in this very safe Conservative seat. In February 1 2000 William Hague promoted him to the Shadow Cabinet as shadow Chancellor. On February 3 Portillo stood opposite the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, in the House of Commons for the first time in his new role. During this session Portillo made two significant announcements:

  • The next Conservative Government will respect the independence of the Bank of England and will legislate to enhance that independence and increase accountability to Parliament.
  • The next Conservative Government will not repeal the national minimum wage.

Both of these policies were flagship policies of New Labour and were bitterly opposed by the Conservative Party when introduced and indeed up until Portillo's annoucement. Commentators suggested this was an example of Portillo taking the initiative in terms of Conservative party policy and was the first step towards increasing acrimony between Hague and his shadow Chancellor.

Following the 2001 general election he contested the leadership of the party, initially leading well but was knocked out in the final round of voting by Conservative MPs. When Iain Duncan Smith was elected leader Portillo returned to the backbenches. In 2003 he announced that he would not seek reselection as the Conservative candidate for the Kensington and Chelsea seat, and stepped down from the House of Commons at the 2005 general election. He said that he expected to pursue his interests in the media and the arts.

Since 2003 he has appeared in the BBC weekly political discussion programme This Week with Andrew Neil and Diane Abbott.

He has been married to Carolyn Eadie since 1982.

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Preceded by:
David Hunt
Secretary of State for Employment
Succeeded by:
Gillian Shephard
Sec. State Education and Employment
Preceded by:
Malcolm Rifkind
Secretary of State for Defence
Succeeded by:
George Robertson

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