Iain Dale peers into the future and imagines what a Portillo Shadow Cabinet
might look like.
Michael Portillo has a problem. It's the same one that beset William Hague.
Just how do you pick a formidable Shadow Cabinet with only 165 other MPs to
choose from with several of the big hitters refusing to serve under you? If
he wins this leadership election - and it's still a big if - this will be
his first challenge. And his team will only have a matter of a fortnight to
prepare for the Tory Party conference at the beginning of October. Portillo
will want to hit the ground running, but the question is, can he even muster
a team which will be able to canter along the course?
William Hague wants a rest, Ann Widdecombe views Portillo as having
'something of the nightclub' about him, Angela Browning is stepping down for
family reasons and Ken Clarke only wants to be leader. So there. Of the rest
of the outgoing Hague Shadow Cabinet it would be hard to make a case for
Gary Streeter, David Heathcoat Amory or Theresa May to stay. It all depends
on how bold Portillo can afford to be. He speaks of inclusion, yet it is
hard to see him being able to include Michael Ancram and David Davis,
although Iain Duncan Smith might be easier to persuade.
Davis in particular has become a bogeyman figure for the Portillistas who
were briefing heavily against him in the run-up to the General Election.
They were constantly placing stories in the media about preparations for a
Davis leadership bid. Rubbish. And Davis is a man who not only doesn't
forget - he doesn't forgive. So don't expect him to join the team. If the
Portillistas really want to wreak their revenge they will make every attempt
to prevent him returning to the chairmanship of the Public Accounts
Committee where even his enemies admit he has been an outstanding success.
If they do try this tactic it will provide further evidence that the
Conservative Party remains, in the words of Steve Norris, the 'nasty party'.
It is certainly fair to say that Ancram and Portillo didn't hit it off in
the shadow cabinet. Ancram became totally frustrated by Portillo's
reluctance to throw down the economic gauntlet to Gordon Brown and the two
had some fearsome fall-outs during the election campaign according to
Central Office insiders. And Duncan Smith cannot abide Portillo's apparent
conversion to woolly social liberalism. Of the three, he is the most likely
to swallow his pride and come to the aid of the party, but he will not be
The key to who will be in the Portillo team lies not only in the available
choice, but the priorities he sets himself for the first six months. These
are likely to be based around his wish to completely reform the Conservative
Party structure and to launch a really meaningful, root and branch policy
review. If he is to be as radical as he promises expect to see a number of
faces from outside Parliament to be brought in.
The key post for Portillo will be party chairman. Rumours abound that
Portillo has promised the job to Alan Duncan. Many senior Tories recoil with
horror at the prospect, which is probably a good enough reason to give him
the job. Yet it just doesn't quite have the ring of truth about it. Duncan's
talents would better be deployed developing radical policies. The other two
leading candidates are Steve Norris and Gillian Shephard. Norris's
appointment would send out a strong signal to the Party that it had better
start selecting more women, ethnic and openly gay candidates - or else. He
certainly has the strength of character to reform the party from top to
bottom, and as he hasn't got any parliamentary ambitions to nurture, he won'
t mind making enemies - in fact he would revel in it. Gillian Shephard as
party chairman, on the other hand, would on the face of it not ruffle as
many feathers and be seen as 'the party activist's friend'. So popular is
she among the party that she received more than 800 letters urging her to
stand as leader. She should not be underestimated and likes to get her own
way. However, she is not a natural Portillista and may prefer a quieter life on the
The top three positions in the Shadow Cabinet are more difficult to call. It
is safe to say that Portillo's campaign manager, Francis Maude, will be able
to choose his job but he is unlikely to stay at Foreign Affairs and may become
Portillo’s Deputy Leader and take charge of the policy review.
The 12 other Shadow Cabinet members who have come out in support of
Portillo will be desperate to be Shadow Chancellor or Shadow Home Secretary,
but my tip is that Iain Duncan Smith will be offered the Treasury brief. Archie Norman has been telling everyone who will listen that he has said it’s Home Affairs or nothing. Time will tell.
David Willetts will be forgiven for drafting the manifestos which have led
to the two largest electoral defeats in the Party's history and be given
the task of launching a complete review of the party’s education policy, while Theresa May may well retain her shadow cabinet status simply because she's a woman. Call me cynical, but she doesn't have a lot of competition with the possible exceptions of Eleanor Laing and Caroline
Spelman. Expect Tim Yeo to be promoted and Liam Fox to play a key role – possibly shadowing the Foreign Secretary . But the real fun will be to see who Portillo brings into his shadow cabinet.
Damien Green is almost a dead cert while Stephen Dorrell might well be ready
to forsake the family business and return to frontline politics. Ian Taylor and David Curry are two other leftists who may expect promotion. To balance these leftish influences John Bercow, the terrier-like scourge of New Labour may well find himself promoted to the front line.
And what about the coterie of young advisers who surround Portillo who have
caused Ann Widdecombe so much pain and anguish? Portillo has so far ignored
the advice of many wise old owls who have cautioned him to dispense with
their services. It is doubtful whether he will do so if he becomes leader.
Robbie Gibb, Andrew Cooper, Michael Simmonds and several others have
invested far too much to be sidelined quietly. Their key plus point is that
they are implicitly trusted by Portillo, who regards them as his Pretorian
Guard. Hague's problem was that his equivalent circle of trusted advisers
had the collected political nouse of an overbred sheep.
It is clear that a Portillo leadership will involve radical change for all
sections of the Conservative Party. What is in little doubt is that whoever
he appoints, he's going to cause controversy and upset people.
Deputy Leader Francis Maude
Foreign Affairs Liam Fox
Shadow Chancellor Iain Duncan Smith
Chief Secretary Damien Green
Home Affairs Archie Norman
Party Chairman Steve Norris
Trade & Industry Bernard Jenkin
Transport Tim Yeo
Health Andrew Lansley
Defence Stephen Dorrell
Northern Ireland Ian Taylor
Constitution Oliver Letwin
Environment Peter Ainsworth
Culture Alan Duncan
International Development Caroline Spelman
Leader of the Commons Nicholas Soames
Education David Willetts
Work & Pensions David Curry
Cabinet Office John Bercow
Leader of the Lords Lord Strathclyde
Chief Whip Andrew Mackay