Politics

Portillo interviewed: I’m only human…

The two years since his sensational defeat have given Michael Portillo time to think. Now he is being tipped for the top job in Nato, but that would put him out of British politics for ever…

Before that day, Portillo had always seemed to be a lucky man – one for whom the doors of life opened smoothly. He went from Cambridge into the Conservative Party machinery, which quickly ratcheted him into Parliament, and up the ministerial ranks. He was good-looking, in a heavy-jawed kind of way; he had a flair that marked him out; he had views, held passionately and passionately declared, that attracted fans, followers, staunch enemies. At 36, he was being hailed as the next Tory leader. Thatcher anointed him (‘we expect so much from you’). And he seemed so sure of himself, this Tory son of a Labour idealist, this half-Spanish establishment man so vehemently opposed to Europe. It was a long fall that he took.

He sits opposite me on a comfortable flowered sofa, in his ordered, civilised house not far from the Westminster he’s lost. The room is gracious with flowers, books, framed photos, tasteful prints on the white walls. He wears a patterned tie, a serious blue shirt, smart shoes. His hair is greyer than I’ve remembered from TV, his smile more friendly, less supercilious. Two years on, and Portillo hasn’t really disappeared into the wilderness (indeed, for many he has become the king over the water). He helped out in the European elections, still a Big Gun after all. He’s not at the political centre but he’s keeping his hand in. Most recently, his name has been mentioned, in a carefully worded, anonymously sourced story, as the next Secretary-General of Nato, and Tony Blair has said he wouldn’t oppose him.

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