Magazine article The Spectator

In My Mysterious World of Tory Politics 'Sexuality' Never Means Heterosexuality

Magazine article The Spectator

In My Mysterious World of Tory Politics 'Sexuality' Never Means Heterosexuality

Article excerpt

A writer in one of the papers has referred to Mr Portillo's `cruel Castilian lips'. It was unclear whether the writer considered them an asset. If so, it is hard to know how his rivals for the Tory leadership could trump them. Mr Clarke's supporters could extol his `cruel Nottinghamshire paunch'. But it could be that the party members, who will have the last vote, do not want cruelty of any kind in their leaders any more. Mr Portillo seems to think they do not. His campaign is founded on making the Tories look kinder. He would rather that the papers wrote of his `inclusive Castilian lips'. Perhaps, however, the lips issue will prove to be irrelevant.

But Mr Portillo's 'sexuality' is certainly at the moment relevant. People who use the word 'sexuality' mean 'homosexuality' or 'bisexuality', never `heterosexuality. That is so in Mr Portillo's case. In all the conversations I have had with Conservative MPs about the leadership election, it has been raised within minutes. But it would be healthier if the matter were not publicly discussed by recourse to euphemism. It is no good Sir Malcolm Rifkind referring, as he did in a television interview, to its being perhaps 'a very dangerous experiment' to make Mr Portillo leader. Dangerous in what way? Not his policies; he has shown that he is prepared to change them. He has changed them in the direction of Sir Malcolm's own, Sir Malcolm being no right-winger. Is `dangerous experiment' a euphemism for Mr Portillo's 'sexuality'? If not, what else could it refer to?

Lord Tebbit cannot be accused of resorting to euphemism. He told a television interviewer that Mr lain Duncan Smith was 'remarkably normal'; surely an oxymoron. How can someone be remarkably normal? Surely to be remarkable is to depart from the norm. Not, however, to depart in this case from the Norm Tebbit. For the remark has been universally acknowledged to be Lord Tebbit's way of claiming that normal was what Mr Portillo was remarkably not.

In my conversations about Mr Portillo with Tory MPs, including those who intend to vote for him (as at the moment do a majority), there is always broad agreement that Lord Tebbit's remark was deplorable, the most spectacular example yet of his famed 'homophobia'. Especially so when taken in conjunction with his answer to an election-night interviewer's question to him as to whether Mr Portillo was `getting cold feet' about standing for the leadership ('I don't know. I've never slept with him').

`Typical Norman. Obsessed with it, he is.' Someone always says that. Then I make an effort, sort of, to defend him. My line is: at least he makes it clear he can't stand 'em, and can't stand Mr Portillo because he admits to having been one of 'em. Sure, old Norm's a homophobe. But you know where you are with him, on this subject at least. Several million votes adrift among the educated middle classes - the only people who at present bother to go to the polling stations. That's where you are with old Norm. He wants the Tories to take the Romford Option. (Romford was the Essex constituency, part of the diaspora of the old London East End, where a Tebbitesque Tory secured one of the few Tory gains from Labour at the election. For that reason, it is as untypical of Middle England as Mississippi is of Middle America.) But he genuinely believes that the Tories only lose elections because they are not right-wing enough.

Then conversation moves on to the future. `Is there any more to come out?' That is what someone always asks. Then we all try to remember what it was that Mr Portillo actually said when, in that Times interview, he `came out'. …

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